John Kentera was first and foremost a gentleman, in the truest sense of the word. And if he loved you he did so to the deepest depths of his heart, said his granddaughter Ashley Kentera Brophy, who cared for — and lived with him — for the last three-and-a-half years of his life. John Kentera passed away from kidney failure in the family’s Leucadia home on Monday, Oct. 24, 2011.
Ashley said it was as though her grandfather was holding onto life for her wedding day. She and her husband, Matthew Brophy, married just nine days before his passing, on Oct. 15 – his 88th birthday. “My wedding anniversary for my entire life will be on his birthday,” said Brophy, who cherished her grandfather.
Born in 1923 in Globe, Ariz., John, in his adult life, was a resident of Solana Beach for 55 years. His parents had roots in Yugoslavia; they immigrated to America through Ellis Island, then migrated west to Arizona and settled in California. Part of a family of six, growing up during the Great Depression, John helped tend 40 acres of farmland in Madera. With little money, the family Christmas tree was a decorated olive branch and a typical present was a pair of blue jeans that would last the entire year. Despite the austerity, John was a good student and graduated from Madera High School as a standout athlete in track and field, and football.
At age 19, John enlisted in the U.S. Army, recruited into the 11th Airborne Division in North Carolina. He trained as a pilot for gliders — coffins with wings — as John called them. One of his early missions ended in tragedy when a major crash crushed his legs. He survived the accident and with an honorable discharge returned to civilian life. “He was a tough man,” said his son, coach John Kentera, a local radio sportscaster for XX 1090.
After World War II, John played offensive left guard for the football team at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 1949, he won the title of Nevada State Heavy Weight Boxing Champion, beating Ernest “Jitterbug” Collier. He boxed in 14 professional fights after a lengthy amateur career.
Based in Lake Tahoe and Reno, working as a bartender and bodyguard to the infamous club owner Eddie Sahati, John experienced the darker side of the gaming business, witnessing several mob shootings. These hushed-up incidents were shared in his later years and added to his colorful biography, which was legendary. Some of his recollections were retold in an Arcadia book on the history of Encinitas, published in 2006.
Close ties to family found John commuting between Reno and Leucadia in the 1950s. He worked at his parents’ grocery store, the Palace Market, and at their Auto Court on North Highway 101, which helped develop his business skills. This led to his opening Johnny’s Beer Bar in partnership with his brother, Andy, a business which spanned 44 years. Later renamed The Leucadian, it is still operational under new ownership.