Obituary North: Saxonburg hotel owner was 'personality of the town'
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Alfred Gentile made his home in Jefferson, Butler County, but he wasn't there much.
The affable Mr. Gentile, who was known as "Fred," could usually be found in the Hotel Saxonburg restaurant, working long hours to make folks feel at home in Butler County's oldest continually operating bar and restaurant.
Mr. Gentile, owner of the Hotel Saxonburg, a founder of the Saxonburg Festival of the Arts and a decorated Vietnam War veteran, died of a heart attack May 3 in his home. He was 63.
The hotel was built in 1832 in the town's Main Street historic district.
Mr. Gentile's parents, Domenic, who is known as "Roomie" and lives in Harrison, and the late Jean Gentile, bought the hotel in 1958, when it was operating only as a bar. They turned it into a restaurant that served fare such as lobster bisque and crab cakes, and it became a popular spot for locals and diners from the Pittsburgh area.
Mr. Gentile took over the restaurant in 1975, running it with his wife, Carolyn Athey Gentile, whom he married in 1966. Family members said his wife planned to continue to operate the restaurant.
"It is our 'Cheers,' " said family friend Linda Cooper, of Saxonburg, referring to the 1980s television program that depicted a bar "where everybody knows your name."
"If my fiance couldn't come with me, it is one of those places I felt comfortable going on my own," she said.
By all accounts, the restaurant's welcoming atmosphere was largely due to Mr. Gentile's warm, gregarious personality. No one was a stranger for long at the Hotel Saxonburg.
"He was kind of the personality of this town. ... When I think of my dad, I picture him going from table to table in the restaurant, working the room, so to speak," said his daughter, Cara Gentile, of Philadelphia, who worked in the restaurant as a teenager.
"He always made sure he greeted you. He always stopped to say hello or crack a joke. He always had a smile," said restaurant regular Frank Ballina, of Saxonburg.
In the mid-1980s, Mr. Gentile founded the Saxonburg Festival of the Arts to celebrate local talent and give a boost to the business district. The festival will celebrate its 21st year in September.
When his friend, former Knoch High School teacher Hugh Shearer, died in the late '80s, Mr. Gentile founded the H.L. Shearer Sporting and Literary Society. The organization, founded to honor the two men's love of books and sporting, has raised $25,000 for local charities since 1988.
Born and raised in Tarentum, Mr. Gentile graduated from Tarentum High School and Washington and Jefferson College, where he played running back for the football team. The college retired his jersey number in 2000 and its trophy room, the Eaton-Gentile Hall of Fame in Towler Hall, bears his name.
Mr. Gentile earned a master's degree in business administration from Penn State University before serving 13 months as an Army second lieutenant in Vietnam. He was awarded the Silver Star; four Bronze Stars, three with a Valor device and one with an oak leaf cluster; the Purple Heart; the Army Air Medal; the Army Commendation Medal; the Vietnam Campaign Medal; and the National Defense Medal.
His daughter described him as a devoted family man who always made sure he gave his children a good night kiss, despite his long hours at the restaurant.
"He would come in every night, no matter how late, and tousle our heads and tell us he loved us," she said.
In addition to his wife, daughter and father, he is survived by a daughter, Amy Gentile Crowdis, of Fort Worth, Texas; a brother, Gary Gentile, of Fox Chapel; and a grandson.
A funeral was held Saturday in Fox Funeral Home in Saxonburg. Burial is scheduled for Monday in Arlington National Cemetery.
First Published May 11, 2006 12:00 am