Entrepreneurship Runs in the Family

Larry and Kathy Gentine’s generous gift ensures future students can pursue their dreams
Larry ’68 and Kathy Gentine like to focus their philanthropic efforts on projects and initiatives they can see as much as feel. In the Entrepreneurship Center within the Schneider School of Business & Economics, the Gentines have found a project that strikes at the core motivations of their family.
The Gentine family, which includes multiple St. Norbert College graduates, can point to Larry’s father, who was a serial entrepreneur in his own right. Leonard A. Gentine (“LAG”) was a funeral parlor operator who made and distributed gifts of cheese as one of a multitude of side businesses. He co-founded Sargento Foods in 1953 in Plymouth, Wis., and the family has owned the company outright since 1965.
“The Entrepreneurship Center appeals to us because of my father,” Larry says. “He was a big believer in getting people involved, and he did it with Sargento. He always tried to promote from within.”
Larry, who was a 1994 recipient of the college’s alumni award for distinguished achievement in business, initially planned on a military career. His father recruited him to join the family business after Larry exited the military following a tour in Vietnam, and he got his start in the purchasing department at Sargento. Larry eventually moved into the company’s food service division, ending his active career in 2004 as the vice president.
The Entrepreneurship Center will be a focal point of the Schneider School of Business & Economics as it moves into the spectacular new Donald & Patricia Schneider Family Hall in the fall of 2025. This makes the Gentines’ million-dollar gift to fund the center’s endowment all the more significant.
“Creating the Entrepreneurship Center feels like a very logical and organic thing to do,” explained former Interim President Tom Kunkel. “Entrepreneurialism is so much more a part of the culture today. This is not only a good thing to do in and of itself, but from the college’s perspective, it’s going to be very important to the long-term viability of the whole institution. It’s going to be a game-changer for us.”
Initial discussions about what the Entrepreneurship Center could look like rekindled some of those business-building memories for Larry and Kathy, who was a teacher during her working career.
“College programs often don’t include training on how to do things like start a business or get a patent,” notes Kathy, adding that the St. Norbert liberal arts model “is perfect for having a whole course in entrepreneurship.”
“I thought it sounded like a good idea,” Larry says. “Tom makes sure all the blocks are set up first, so I got excited about it.”
Entrepreneurship as a skill set 
Entrepreneurship is as much a skill set as it is a mindset, and both can be taught and nurtured. A liberal arts curriculum such as that offered at St. Norbert is particularly well-suited for developing this brand of innovation and growth. A recent Nielsen study found that approximately 54 percent of young Americans want to start their own company, and many will be looking for educational outlets that support their goals.
The growing trend toward entrepreneurship is not lost on the Gentines, despite the fact that most in their generation grew up working for someone else. In fact, they envision continuing their financial support of the Entrepreneurship Center as the program expands to meet the needs of an evolving student population.
“Young people are exposed to so many more things today,” Kathy says. “There are so many ideas out there with social media and the internet. There aren’t other schools doing programs like this around here. It would be wonderful for St. Norbert to be the one that’s really promoting it. I’m sure it will encourage students to come to St. Norbert.”
Kunkel sees the Entrepreneurship Center and the Donald J. Schneider School of Business & Economics as building blocks to the St. Norbert College of the future. New president Laurie Joyner will be able to leverage these programs to enhance the college’s reputation for offering innovative learning opportunities.
“As we go forward, the business school is going to be a real engine for the college,” Kunkel stated. “We will have a new building for it as more and more students become interested in business. They know when they come to St. Norbert College that they’re getting prepared to go into business. This notion of entrepreneurialism is central to that plan.”