Boardwalk, a Bridge to Memory Lane

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“This is a time for us to say thank you and to celebrate,” said Kerry Romesburg, president of Jacksonville University. “My goodness, what a gift to our institution!”

About 45 years ago, W. C. Gentry transferred from the University of Florida to Jacksonville University because he was interested in a girl on the dolphin’s campus.

Gentry had no money to attend JU, but financial aid donors helped him lower the cost. Now, he is married to the woman that he came here after. They have three daughters and six grandchildren. Gentry has blessed JU with many gifts because of this.

He gave Quinton White Jr., the executive director of the Marine Science Research Institute and a professor of biology and marine science, a gift of $150,000 to build a boardwalk that features a 300-foot walkway and gazebo from recycled materials.

It connects the mulch parking lot behind the JU apartments to the front entrance of the MSRI building.

“The boardwalk was part of a vision for the MSRI that demonstrates how to do environmentally-friendly projects,” said White. “It was important to take advantage of the wetland system there, for both educational and ecological purposes.”

The MSRI is a “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” gold-certified facility, according to www.ju.edu/msri. The goal is to provide a premier biological and environmental research and educational facility.

April 6 was the official dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. for the W. C. and Susan Gentry Boardwalk and Nature Preserve, where JU decided to thank Gentry for all he has done for the MSRI.

Fifteen family members, including him and his wife, were all in attendance. This had been the first time they had been with each other in four years, Gentry said.

“Today is an auspicious day,” said Jeannie Gabrynowicz, the director of scholarship and grant administration at JU. “I started working here in 2001, and it took me three years to find the river.”

At the ceremony, many people noted how many things are making the river more accessible.

There must have been something special in the water because Gentry shocked the JU community with even nicer gifts to come in the future.

According to Gentry, he takes his grandchildren out for boat trips in the St. Johns River. Since  it’s construction, it has confused him that a person can’t reach the marine science building by water.

He made the announcement that he is willing to offer $100,000 for a new dock attached to the JU pier, if another donor is willing to match the same amount of money.

“This is an incredible opportunity for our city and region,” he said. “JU has changed greatly.”

White said how proud he was of the great marine science program at JU and how he is happy to see all the environmental groups protecting the St. Johns River.

According to White, the boardwalk is 93 percent polymer because he had seen that material used before and was interested in using it for this project. The post holding everything up is composed of new material.

The plans for the dock include making it out of high-tech, aluminum polymer and fiberglass, White said. Unfortunately, it cannot be made out of recyclable materials because the tough waves and other environmental problems require stronger materials. The use of concrete is not even strong enough.

The MSRI identifies perspective donors, and he knew that Gentry was an alumnus, White said. Gentry let it be known that he wanted to do something for JU, and a boardwalk sounded appealing to him because he had done something similar in another area before.

Before donating the money for the boardwalk, he had donated a 31-foot tall cuddy cabin to the MSRI that cost $85,000.

Gentry is now a chairman of the Duval County School Board, but he made all his money from being a really good attorney, White said.

According to www.gentrylaw.net, he’ll forgo a big payout if a cause stirs his passions. He took on a case of eliminating the smell coming from Jacksonville’s paper mills as a favor to his former high school classmate, who was mayor at the time, Tommy Hazouri.

“He’s a really nice and good person,” White said.

A plaque was given to W.C. and Susan Gentry with the boardwalk name on it by White, and then White led the family across the boardwalk after the ceremony.

Plaques decorate the boardwalk with information about the flora and fauna surrounding anyone who walks through the nature preserve. Field guides with scientific names were passed out to everyone who attended the ceremony.

Alex Paradise, a master’s student in the MSRI’s graduate program, was invited to attend.

“It’s calming to walk through a nature preserve after a long commute,” Paradise said. “You get to listen to the birds while having easy access to the building.”

“For most people, its purpose is the shortest direction from point A to point B,” White said. “What they don’t know or what they don’t think about as much is when they walk along that boardwalk, they are observing nature and interacting with things. It is a real learning experience. Even I’m seeing things out there that I wasn’t sure were there before: owls, all kinds of insects, birds and wildlife. It’s been a lot of fun. I love to go sit out there when I just need to decompress.”

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