Moorestown honors David Gentile with plaque at Rec Center, Maple Dawson Park

Moorestown honors David Gentile with plaque at Rec Center, Maple Dawson Park

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The Rec Center lobby was filled to capacity and overflowed into the gym with Moorestown families and friends of David Gentile greeting each other with smiles and memories of the well-known Moorestonian on Monday, July 13.

Family members and friends, along with township council members, came to the Rec Center for a dedication ceremony in honor of Gentile where a plaque was put up in his name in the lobby as well as at Maple Dawson Park tennis courts. At the ceremony, Mayor Victoria Napolitano and his sister Caroline Gentile made speeches about David highlighting his personality, his dedication to his education and friends, his volunteerism and his love for Moorestown.

“There was no question we wanted to honor David in this way. David spent a lot of time at Maple Dawson Park growing up,” Caroline said.

“I think (the tennis court dedication) is wonderful. I am sad the skate park didn’t work out, but this is a good substitute. He did go there a lot growing up,” David’s mother Joan Gentile Taylor said. “I appreciate what Moorestown is doing for his memory. All of my neighbors came to visit. There are people here I haven’t seen in 20 years. It’s wonderful everyone hugs and remembers.”

David Gentile was born in 1964, growing up on Maplewood Avenue. He attended Baker Elementary School through Moorestown High School where he went on to play football for MHS.

“He was always having fun. Even at a young age, he could have fun, but was a very fierce football player,” childhood friend Paul Martin said.

In 1979, at 15 years old, he sustained a broken neck during a football game, causing him to become a quadriplegic. That didn’t stop him from graduating with his class, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics, and volunteering his time with the Moorestown Recreation Department and the YMCA, all the while still keeping a fun-loving attitude and sense of humor.

“He was smart, open and fun to be around. After his accident, these same qualities were essential to his ability to persevere and succeed,” Caroline said.

“He was such a free spirit and that never changed. I look back and marvel about how he stayed the same. His injury didn’t change him,” Martin said.

During his rehabilitation, the community organized David’s Day on May 10, 1980, to raise money for the Gentile family, in hopes of helping with the costs that accrued as a result of David’s medical bills. With David’s father being a banker, he started a trust with the money raised from David’s Day. One of the stipulations tied to the trust stated if David were to pass, the money would be returned to the township.

When David died in February 2001 at the age of 36, Gentile Taylor did just that.

Gentile Taylor approached resident Allan Hanlon who was searching for ways to raise money for a skate park, which at the time was only partially complete. Gentile Taylor donated $120,000 toward the construction of the skate park, which was later dedicated in David’s name in 2002. Money was dedicated for an ambulance as well as to the YMCA.

Unfortunately, last year, the David Gentile Skatepark was taken down.

Not wanting David’s name to disappear, Sandra McGuire, a neighbor and friend of David’s, along with Theresa Miller of the Department of Parks and Recreation, worked to propose his name live on in some other way. Township council decided to move his name to the tennis courts at Maple Dawson Park where he used to play when he was a child.

“This is about more than the dedication. It is what David did with his life after the accident. Paralyzed from the neck down, he graduated from high school, he graduated from college, he worked on the Recreation Board and the Board of Directors at the YMCA. He even established a system for the YMCA to regulate pledges. He did all of that while confined to a wheelchair. That is what I think is most important,” McGuire said.

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The plaque dedicated to David states “Memorial Tennis Courts; In remembrance of David Gentile; A Moorestown athlete who loved this park and always played with heart. A free spirit and fairness to all; Dedicated 2015.”

Those who knew David hope he is remembered for his sense of humor, his passion for sports and fun, as well as for all he did for generations to come.

“I hope people remember his great sense of humor. He loved the town. He could turn a cloudy day into a sunny day,” McGuire said.

“I did not have the pleasure of knowing David, but I know it would’ve been a pleasure because everyone who did know him remembers him so fondly. I think it is so wonderful we have these plaques here at the Rec Center and Maple Dawson Park that will be an introduction to David for those of us who never got the chance to meet him and especially for young people in our community who can see him as a role model, as a true Moorestonian and someone who is a great example. In that way, his commitment to sportsmanship and fun will live on in a new generation of Moorestonians,” Napolitano said.

The township and David’s family thanked everyone who put in the hard work to get the plaques dedicated for David.

“Many thanks to Mayor Napolitano, Town Council, Theresa Miller and the Parks and Recreation Department for recognizing David this way. We are especially grateful for Sandy McGuire for proposing the project in the first place and for being his passion champion from start to finish. Thanks everyone for coming,” Caroline said.