Gentile Hall exceeds wildest expectations

17 years ago

   PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – One year after the official opening of Caroline D. Gentile Hall, donors, community members and University of Maine at Presque Isle faculty, staff and students gathered again in the foyer of the building to celebrate once more. Wednesday marked the building and its founder’s birthdays with a sense of celebration, collaboration and accomplishment.

   “It was just a year ago when then President Burgher completed the plan of dedicating this facility,” said UMPI President Donald Zillman in his opening address. “Everything then was anticipation – how marvelous this could be, what could be done with the building. We now have a solid year under us and the anticipation has turned to reality.”
If in years past Presque Isle and the surrounding communities have seemed distanced from UMPI and its facilities, Zillman made clear that the new building bonded the two parties. Hosting such events as the Special Olympics and the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Junior/Youth World Biathlon Championships, the facility can claim international ties, but the smaller events like the recent Halloween haunted house and intramural leagues along with state-of-the-art facilities have brought it in focus with Aroostook County residents.
Officials, in the beginning, hoped to bring in 1,000 members, and according to associate director Dick Gardiner, the facility way exceeded expectations and is over 1,400 strong, which doesn’t include student, faculty and staff members.
“We have a lot of families come in because they can spend a couple hours here pretty easily,” Gardiner said. “Dad will work out and Mom will take the kids swimming and then Dad will bring the kids in the gym and Mom will go walking or work out. Having everything under one roof where they can all do things together is the biggest bonus.”
Gardiner says that members come from all over the central Aroostook area and that the other big draw is that the facility can host a large event in one section while keeping the rest of the facility open to members, which was important because of the initial support that came from the community.
Wednesday’s event marked the public unveiling of the artwork commemorating all 350 donors, who made the building possible. Covering a wall in the building’s entryway is a tree featuring golden leaves with the names of every contributor. In the middle sits a plaque dedicating the building to Gentile and on a branch sits the schools’ mascot, an owl.
“There once was a time when you could say, if you were a public university, that the state will just come through will all the money that you need and it will get done … Now it’s a much more difficult, much more challenging, much more collaborative project,” Zillman said. “Former presidents and their staff and members of the faculty, staff and community all came together for this project.”
Zillman and Gardiner both credit the joining of the campus and community with making the facility what it has become in the year since its completion. The building has become central to fitness in the area as well as a draw for more students and world-class athletes, both attributes that Gentile, herself focused on as a faculty member.
Gentile built UMPI’s physical education program from the ground up and helped get physical education into local schools.
“We proved that there was a need,” she said in a recent interview. “I inherited the job of having to attend to the physical education facilities of where there was only a 40×40 gymnasium in the basement of Preble Hall … It was like a cracker box.”
Gentile saw to fruition the completion of Wieden Hall at the university, which houses the gymnasium and auditorium facilities and now has helped bring newer and better exercise facilities to the campus and the community.
“You now have the rare distinction of being both a faculty legend and a building,” Zillman told Gentile Wednesday. “Life is now about ‘I’ll see you at Gentile to work out on the climbing wall … Let’s go over to Gentile for a swim … I’ll be at Gentile for a run.’ It’s that visible in the community.”
Gentile reiterated that her own favorite part of the building is just seeing people want to work out and want to be healthy.
“What a joy it has been to have spent this entire year listening not only to kind words about this building, but about our staff,” Gentile said. “As Mr. Jackie Gleason would say, ‘How sweet it is.’”
For more information on hours, classes, facilities and membership visit the university’s Web site at and click on the Gentile Hall link on the left side of the screen or call 768-9772.