PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — More than five years ago, Caroline Gentile, associate professor emeritus of education at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, donated half a million dollars to the college to help create a health and physical education complex.
Most would think that after such a generous gift, Gentile would have just sat back and watched the facility flourish.
But that was not Caroline Gentile, UMPI officials and community residents agreed Friday. Gentile, who was a nationally known educator in the field of health, physical education and recreation before her death last year, was a dedicated woman who gave her all to UMPI and its students.
UMPI President Don Zillman announced Friday that including the $500,000 for the complex, Gentile has donated nearly $1.1 million to the college where she began teaching physical education in 1946. The additional money came from her estate.
Zillman pegged it as the largest gift by a private donor to a university in Aroostook County.
The money and the interest it earns will be used in a number of ways, including for scholarships, equipment purchases and for improvements to the Caroline D. Gentile Health and Physical Education Complex. The $9 million complex opened its doors in January 2006.
Gentile died last September at age 84. She was UMPI’s longest-serving faculty member, having retired officially on July 1, 2005.
Zillman noted during the announcement ceremony that despite her death, Gentile “remains an essential part of the university.”
“She was always asking ‘what more can I do for UMPI?’” he told the crowd. “This is a special day and the continuation of a great story.”
The announcement was made in the bright, spacious lobby of Gentile Hall, where a picture of its benefactor hangs. Gentile was known for wearing a certain pair of gym shoes throughout her teaching career, and university officials had the shoes — the soles worn down to almost nothing and the canvas riddled with holes — bronzed and placed in the lobby of the hall.
Larry Shaw, the president of UMPI’s Foundation Board, said he was thrilled to hear of news of the legacy gift.
Shaw said the tough economy has caused universities across the nation to struggle financially. He added that the board would sit down in the near future and determine the best way to use the money.
Charles Bonin, UMPI’s vice president for administration and finance, said some of the money would be used to make Gentile Hall more energy-efficient.
Gentile Hall is the newest building at UMPI. It features an expansive multipurpose court, fitness center, pool, elevated track and climbing wall. The building is used for classes and also by community groups.
Dick Gardiner, the director of the facility, said Friday that Gentile Hall is an asset to children and adults and helps everyone who steps through its doors to pursue a more healthful lifestyle.
“This gift is wonderful,” he said before the ceremony closed. “This gift will help preserve her legacy.”