At the age of 5, the seed was planted in me that Jesus Christ loves me and died for me. As a five-year-old child, I had no idea what that meant. However, that notion always stayed with me and I somehow thought this to have some deeper, reassuring meaning. As I grew older, the meaning of who Jesus is, His Love and His death and Resurrection, not just for me but for all of humanity, has framed my relationships with everyone I meet. Like so many people, I experienced both incredible pain and joy as a child, teenager and adult. However, overall, when I reflect on my life, I find that it has been a beautiful dream continuously becoming reality. I have always been surrounded with a large, loving, close-knit family which gave me the confidence to go into the world seeing people as an extension of my family. I was born in Tampa, Florida in the heart of the Latin Quarter. My parents are European Spanish and Cuban Americans. Our entire neighborhood or “barrio” was a colorful blend of Spanish, Cuban, and Italian families largely employed by the Cigar industry and the service industries supporting the cigar makers. Both of my grandfathers were Spanish-Cuban cigar makers.
My father was the best waiter I’ve ever known. He was one of those waiters from the “old school.” The kind who wore a black tuxedo-like jacket, pressed white shirt with black bow tie, black dress pants, and laboriously polished black dress shoes. My father was the type of waiter who knew all about service and knowledge of food and wines and when and how your meal should be presented with class and flair. He could speak Spanish, English, and Italian. Make you feel like you owned the restaurant when you dined there. His memory for detail was formidable. How he remembered his customer’s names, favorite entrees and wines, defied belief. As a waiter he was without peer. My father always taught me that there is dignity in every profession or trade that one chooses. Regardless of which path one takes, working hard at giving your best effort with enthusiasm is the only way to be successful. My strong work ethic that is covered with enthusiasm, brought with a smile and displaying a genuine interest in any person I meet is all a reflection of my father’s daily approach to life.
I realize that mothers in the Hispanic community are routinely elevated to near sainthood status. Therefore, I’m no different than any other Hispanic male who will testify to the endless virtues of my mother. However, my mother really is very intelligent, beautiful, and loving. My mother was in the National Honor Society in high school. She had a passion for learning and teaching. Unfortunately, many parents of the women of her period believed it was a waste of time and money to pursue higher education because all they were going to eventually do was to get married and raise children. This was especially true for the working poor. My mother ended her formal education with a high school diploma. She did marry and became a stay home mom to five children. As her oldest child, I was taught the importance of always being responsible for my own actions and setting an example to my younger siblings. She was very keen on education, working hard and selfless service to others. My desire to do well in school, work and helping others was strongly motivated by the importance and respect my mother placed on education, work, and service.
I was very active in high school taking honors classes along with extracurricular activities like involvement with student government, community service organizations and playing on the football team.
Although I started classes at the University of South Florida a week after graduating from high school, I took a drastic turn when I dropped out of the university after two years and spent the next two and a half years working as a commercial roofer in Tampa. However, I did take away an invaluable gift from the University. Many young people stray from their religious faith while in college. I found mine. Since my parents were nominal Catholics at best, Baptism was the only Sacrament I received as a child. While at the University of South Florida, an Irish Priest who headed the Catholic Student Center, Father Fintan Muldoon, completely changed my life. He reignited that feeling I had as a five-year-old that Jesus loves me. He introduced me to two young priests fresh out of seminary, a fellow Irishman, Fr. Nicholas McLaughlin and a first-generation Italian American, Fr. Jerome Carosella. I was catechized that summer by these two young, energetic, and Godly men. It was a transformation for me.
I also soon learned that roofing was brutally physical labor. Hard physical labor in that oppressively hot Florida sun with a crew of ex-cons was an incredible learning experience for me. My personal ethic of working hard and playing hard was crystallized during this period.
One day while putting up a new roof on a strip mall I noticed an Air Force Recruiting Station across the street. For the next few days I couldn’t get my eyes off the poster outside the station. The poster showed the image of a sharp looking Airman with jets streaking by in the background. I believed that could be me! The personal goals of travel, education, developing a meaningful career were all achievements I believed that the Air Force could provide. This was still a difficult decision for me. The unknown of leaving my family and friends behind with all the uncertainties that military life could bring gave me pause. However, there was a strong “inner voice” in me that encouraged me to go forward. I listened to that inner voice and I walked across the street one day during lunch and embarked on an Air Force career!
I served in the US Air Force for nearly 7 years. After Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX I spent nearly 6 months at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, MS studying in the field of Electronic Intelligence. It turned out to be a life changing opportunity. My first duty assignment was at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, NE. My job there was fascinating and exciting because in 1976 when I joined the Air Force, my job and training was part of the ground floor of digital computer technology.
My efforts at Offutt Air Force Base was richly rewarding as I was promoted regularly and recognized in 1978 as the Strategic Air Command Airman of the Year and One of the Twelve Outstanding Airmen of the Air Force. This recognition remains one of the greatest honors of my life.
It was while serving at Offutt Air Force Base that I met the love of my life. I have been married to the beautiful and fun-loving Nancy Gentile for 40 years. All four of her grandparents were born and raised in Italy before emigrating to the US. Her authentic Italian kitchen is the source of my most favorite Italian dishes. She is my wise counselor, best friend, and the one person who keeps me grounded and true.
Two months after we were married, I was assigned to Hahn Air Base, Germany. We spent three years at Hahn which significantly furthered my professional development and afforded us many travel opportunities throughout Western Europe.
I separated from the Air Force in 1982 to join Lockheed Martin. Through Lockheed Martin I studied Electrical Engineering at the University of Texas in Austin and graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.S. in Mathematics. I served Lockheed Martin until May 2013, completing a 31-year career. I retired as a Senior Engineering Manager.
Nancy and I have been blessed with three children, two daughters-in-law, and five grandchildren. James, our first child, was born at Hahn Air Base, Germany, is an active member of the Air Force Reserve, is married to his wife of 15 years, Becca, a schoolteacher, and they have two children, Carmen and Franklin. Our daughter, Andrea, was born in Seoul, Republic of Korea, is a mortgage loan processor and is single. Our youngest son, Robert, was born in Austin, TX. He works for the Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel Mills in Pueblo, CO and has been married to Diana, a schoolteacher, for nearly 7 years. They have three sons, Vincent, Joseph, and Gabriel.
Since retiring from Lockheed Martin in 2013, I have been very active at Our Lady of Loreto Parish. I am a 4th Degree Knight of Columbus and Past Grand Knight and current Faith Director of our Council. I am the Father’s Challenge Weekend Ministry Lead, involved with the Men of Faith at our Parish and am also involved with the Prison Ministry at the Arapahoe County Detention Facility. I also graduated in 2018 from the four-year Denver Catholic Biblical School.
I am profoundly thankful for God’s Grace which has given me a life that has exceeded my wildest dreams. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve my Christ, my family, and my community.