Nominated by Rotary Club of Santa Clarita Valley
Jim was born in Chicago. When he was 8, his family moved to the San Fernando Valley where he was raised and educated. After two years at Valley College, he volunteered for the Army in 1960. He served in the Army Military Police with a tour of duty in Korea, serving in Panmunjom, site of the peace talks with U.N. troops and North Korea. After completion of active duty, Jim returned to Valley College and later entered the insurance industry. In 1964, he married and started his family: two sons, Nick and Jeff. Jim and his family moved in 1966 to the Santa Clarita Valley where he established his business. Wanting to immerse himself in his new community, he joined the Jaycees and became actively involved in all their local projects.
In 1986, Jim became a charter member of the new SCV Sunrise Rotary Club, serving as president in 1988-1989. In 1999, he transferred to the Santa Clarita Valley Rotary (noon) Club and was the Centennial president in 2004-2005. Jim has been on the SCV Rotary board every year since he joined. He was club president in the Centennial Year of Rotary International, and as a tribute to Rotary and to the community, he spearheaded the financing and building of a garden at the Santa Clarita Sports Complex. Upon its completion, the club gifted it to the City of Santa Clarita. The garden is not only a place of relaxation for the community but also serves as a memorial to the young SCV military members who died in service to our country during the Middle Eastern conflicts. In 2015, it became a memorial for SCV veterans of the Vietnam and Korean conflicts.
Jim formed the SCV Rotary Veterans Committee, dedicated to helping returning service men and women resume their lives. Among other things, this includes help with education, life skills, mental health and physical needs such as fitting homes with special accommodations for disabled veterans. He works with Harry Bell's daughter, Janet Austin, in directing and leading the Harry Bell Memorial Veterans Fund for the needs and services of SCV veterans and families. He has also been actively involved in the Habitat for Heroes building site on Center Pointe Parkway as well as the development's memorial to World War II veteran Harry Bell.
— SCV Man & Woman of the Year Committee
As written by Linda Pedersen.
Gasper James Lentini was born In 1939, to second generation Sicilian immigrants, Vincent and Mary Lentini. Following in the Sicilian tradition, the Oak Park, Illinois residents named their first son after his grandfather, Gasper. However, Mary made sure he was called Jimmy and not Gasper.
The Lentini family moved to San Fernando, California in 1948 when father Vince began to have health problems. Vince went to work at Lockheed while Mary stayed home to raise Jim and his younger brother, Andrew. It was here, at the tender age of eight, that Jim discovered that not everyone was Italian and Catholic. Jim got his first job as a paper boy when he asked his father for a bike. Vince's retort was, "get a job." To date, Jim has never been without a job.
Jim attended St Ferdinand's Catholic elementary school in San Fernando. His mother wanted him to attend Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks but funds were limited, so she got a group of parents together to the purchase a bus. Mary then got the appropriate license and drove teens to and from Notre Dame High School to earn the $18 a month tuition for Jim.
In addition to his job at Lockheed, Vince made and sold his own bleach and opened Lentini's Pizza, the first Italian Restaurant in San Fernando. In keeping with the Lentini work ethic, Jim had to forego high school sports for work in the family restaurant. Jim would come home from school, light the family restaurant's pizza oven and begin making pizzas. The restaurant closed around 8:30 p.m., and that's when Jim would do his homework.
It was only natural that Jim inherited his work ethic from his parents. In addition to his father's three jobs, his mother worked as a wedding coordinator at St Clare's Catholic Church until she retired at the age of 91. She was also the secretary of the Italian Catholic Federation. Jim's parents constantly donated their time and energy to charitable events, especially within their church.
In his late teens Jim joined the Van Nuys Noblemen Car Club. His mother always said she wished she had a dollar for every hour he worked on his 1952 Olds Super 88. He loved drag racing and still stays in touch with many of his racing buddies.
Following his graduation from Notre Dame, Lentini went to Valley College for two years majoring in Police Science. His studies were interrupted in 1960 when he was drafted. He served in Korea in '61 and '62 as part of the Army's Military Police. During his tour of duty, Jim walked security on the Swiss side of the DMZ. He also served at Pam Mon Jom, site of the peace talks with United Nations troops and North Korea. After completion of active duty, Jim returned to Valley College and majored in business. He entered the insurance industry in 1964 and today he is the president and owner of Lentini Insurance amp; Investments, Inc.
Jim met wife Susan in 1979 while on a fishing trip with some buddies in Mazatlan. He considers the meeting one of the best moments in his life and was happily surprised when she agreed to join him for a drink (doubly so since Susie didn't like guys who drank or had beards — at the time, Jim qualified in both categories). Following a whirlwind courtship, Susan quit her job at Cypress Company Graphics in Orange County and married Jim on Nov. 18, 1979, at Valencia Methodist Church. Regarding the fishing trip, Jim likes to say. that he was the only one who got caught. Jim also jokes that Susan didn't read the small print on the marriage license because she also acquired 11 year old Nick and 8 year old Jeff. Susan laughingly retorts that she married Jim for his sons and his great family. Eleven-year-old Nick was Jim's best man at the wedding.
In 1980, Jim found a 1952 Olds '88 in a Castaic field. Because it was the same model he once drag raced in The Fifties, Jim decided he had to have it. He told Susie that it had the engine and all the parts, it just needed a little work. What he failed to mention was all those parts were in the trunk. The rusty, shell of a vehicle was towed to the side of the house where its four tires immediately went flat. Many thousands of dollars, and nearly as many hours later, it was running. The car so impressed Nick and his girlfriend Elise, that they decided they wanted to use it, along with other 1950s cars, for their wedding in 1993.
For the last many years, Jim has driven this Oldsmobile in the SCV Fourth of July Parade representing Rotary and Elks. His grandsons Dominic and Marco ride with him and usually invite some of their friends too.
When Nick turned 21 he joined the insurance business with his parents. His wife Elise now has her insurance license too.
Son, Jeff married in 2008, and is currently working in the security field. His wedding anniversary as well as Jim's and brother Nick's are all in November — apparently a very good month to marry.
As soon as Jim established his business in Santa Clarita in 1966, he began immersing himself in his new community. Jim joined the Jaycees and was actively involved in all their local projects. When he was 39, he was "promoted" out of the Jaycees as an "Exhausted Rooster." It was then that he and Susan became active with other local organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Santa Clarita Valley. Jim has given generously of both his time and his financial support to local organizations such as the Santa Clarita Boys amp; Girls Club, American Heart Association, Union Bank of California Advisory Board, Valencia Industrial Association, Child amp; Family Center , and the SCV Chamber of Commerce HealthCare Committee.
Jim is currently coaching grandson Dominic's golf team at SCV International Charter School in Castaic. He is an Awana teacher for boys first grade to sixth grade at Church of the Canyons, and director of Men's Ministries at Church of the Canyons — all of which seem to require an Italian dinner and meeting at his house every other month. Since 1992, Jim has been a board member for Campus After Dark, a Christian after-school club at several high schools. He is also active in the Southern California Oldsmobile Club.
Jim has been president of the Santa Clarita Sunrise Rotary Club and president of the SCV Rotary Club during Rotary's Centennial Year and is an active board member. He was also an officer of the Elks Lodge for three years.
The Veterans Program has always been close to Jim's heart. Through his active involvement in Veteran's affairs, he has often combined many events with Rotary and Elks. He was the developer and coordinator of the Rotary Garden at the SCV Sports Complex, which was donated to the City of Santa Clarita. In 2015, the veterans program raised the funds and dedicated a memorial in the Rotary Garden to the lost SCV veterans of the Vietnam and Korean War. Later, another ceremony was held for recent SCV warriors lost in battle
Jim has also chaired fund-raising events for the Habitat for Heroes homes on Center Pointe, involving both the Elks Lodge and Rotary. He worked diligently to have the main entrance named in honor of Harry Bell, WWII veteran, Rotarian, and Elk.
Jim is a mentor with other senior veterans for the Mentorship program established by Habitat in 2015 for SCV veterans and families. The program offers counselling services with the Veterans Administration, assistance for jobs and schooling, and advisory services from SCV businesses .
Along with his passion for family, Rotary, and Elks, Jim loves Italian music, Italian food, dancing, playing as much golf as possible, riding his Harley Davidson Motorcycle every chance he gets, cars, boats, watering skiing, snow skiing and extensive travel with Susan.
Jim amp; Susan have been involved with various Rotary District Humanitarian trips to places like Guatemala, Panama, Honduras and Colombia.
Our 2016 Man of the Year has many memories, stories, and experiences growing up with Sicilian relatives, some of whom were quite famous. For those who are curious, a trip to the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, would be quite enlightening.