'Power of the wheel' turned 57th Water Festival commodore from volunteer to leader

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJuly 11, 2012 

John Gentry, commodore for the 57th annual Beaufort Water Festival, poses July 8 with his wife, Jan, at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in downtown Beaufort.

SARAH WELLIVER/STAFF PHOTO

Ever since he was a stage hand setting up for bands at the Beaufort Water Festival in the 1980s, John Gentry has loved being part of the event.

And this year's 57th commodore said it's nearly impossible to stop volunteering once you start. He calls it the "power of the wheel." It just keeps pulling volunteers in.

"You get caught up in wanting to do something to help Beaufort," Gentry said. "You just get caught up, and (his wife) Jan volunteers right alongside me."

An Army brat whose family settled in Beaufort when he was 11, Gentry considers Beaufort his home. His father, who was part of the Optimist Club and "volunteered for everything," instilled a commitment to community in Gentry.

Gentry and his wife met while in the Army. John served for three and a half years, ending as a military policeman sergeant, and Jan served for four and a half years, ending as a chaplain's activities specialist. They used their GI bills to pay for college while raising their children, taking turns caring for them while John went to school during the day and Jan took night classes.

The couple have three children: Megan, 32; Erin Vaux, 29; and Kyle, 27; and three grandchildren with one due at the end of the month.

After applying for jobs up and down the East Coast, John heard about an opening to teach and coach football in his adopted hometown of Beaufort -- his dream job. He was accepted and began in the fall of 1981.

That's when he also started helping with the Water Festival. A co-worker suggested they use their summers off to volunteer, in return for which they would receive free tickets for the family. Jan got a job as a secretary at Mossy Oaks Elementary School, where she worked for 27 years.

Five years later, John took a job handling Beaufort and Jasper counties' school transportation for the state and didn't have time to volunteer.

But in 1992, he returned as a middle school physical education teacher and high school football coach, which he continued to do until retiring this year.

Good friend and 50th Commodore Richard Norris pulled John back into the Water Festival fold when Norris was the program coordinator.

"I didn't miss it when I wasn't doing it, but as soon as I got the taste of it again, it was like the power of the wheel. You get sucked in. You like it and you see people having a good time and you're part of that good time," John said.

John was sports director of the festival for three years, starting in 2001.

"That's all I want to do," John said he told Norris. "In all of Water Festival, all I want to do is sports coordinator. Nothing else."

But 49th Commodore Marvin Morrison cornered him at a Beaufort Yacht and Sailing Club event and asked him on the spot to be the program coordinator for the 2004 Water Festival. After eight years in that role, he was elected commodore.

Related content:

Surprising start planned for 57th annual Beaufort Water Festival

Water Festival wraps up with blessing of the fleet

Water Festival winds down, new Commodore elected

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.

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