Longtime Solana Beach resident John Kentera lived many lives

By Diane Y. Welch

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.

Coach John Kentera recalled how his family inherited The Office Bar in Cardiff-by-the-Sea when the owner, his uncle, passed away in 1975. The business was put in his name. At 17, coach John Kentera was the youngest bar owner in Southern California. “But I couldn’t even go into my own bar,” he joked. His father took over the bar’s management, which became a 20-year endeavor.

John had an innate love of others and everyone knew that the greatest love of his life was his wife Peggy. When he married her in 1955 she brought a son, William, from her prior marriage, to that union. John raised him as his own.

Along with his capacity to love was a boundless generosity. “If he thought you were a good guy he would do anything for you,” said coach John Kentera. Never one to boast, for many years John secretly purchased turkeys for Cap’n Kenos $3 Thanksgiving Dinners. He also organized free deep-pit barbecues for the Encinitas Elks Lodge — he was a charter member — and for the American Legion Post 416 of Encinitas, of which he was a longtime member. He provided spaghetti dinners for the-then-named Boys Club, and served as a Boy Scout troop leader in Solana Beach.

“He would also give people money, just to help them out,” recalled coach John Kentera. “He was a go-over type guy, he always remembered where he came from, he knew what it was like to do without.”

John was preceded in death by his wife who passed away in 2001; by his sister, Violet Mihich, and his brother, Andrew Kentera. Loved ones left behind include his sister, Olga Bien; his two sons, William Sullivan and John Patrick Kentera, and their respective wives, Michele Sullivan and Kelly Kentera; his granddaughter, Ashley Kentera- Brophy and her husband, Matthew Brophy; granddaughters Annette Hall-Neville, Adrian Sullivan, Margaret Hamilton, Brooke Kentera, and Lori Motlagh; one nephew; four nieces; five great-granddaughters; and four great-grandsons.

John was laid to rest on Oct. 29, 2011 at Eternal Hills in Encinitas, followed by a celebration of life luncheon at the Encinitas Elks Lodge. “My dad lived about five lives,” said coach John Kentera. “It’s a tremendous loss for our family.”