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Lucenta’s founder had 6th grade education and immigrant will to succeed

The seven-decade business started with a one-pump gas station in Joliet.

John Lucenta Sr. started Lucenta Tire in Will County 75 years ago, after coming to the U.S. from Italy as a boy not knowing how to speak English. The last of its six locations closed for good on May 25 due to high rent. Pictured is the Joliet Street location in the 1950s.

For 75 years, Lucenta Tire served the automotive needs of many Will County residents. The business closed last week for the last time, unable to contend with financial and real estate challenges.

In happier days, the family-owned business provided Annette Koncar of Joliet, granddaughter of Lucenta’s founder, with her first job.

In eighth grade, Koncar unofficially was working for grandfather John Lucenta Sr. by stuffing envelopes with customer invoices.

At 15 and with a work permit, Koncar officially helped with accounts payable, working after school and through summer vacations. Koncar said she walked to Joliet Office Supply, which was downtown at the time, and picked up lunches for the employees.

John Lucenta Sr. started Lucenta Tire in Will County 75 years ago, after coming to the U.S. from Italy as a boy not knowing how to speak English. The last of its six locations closed for good on May 25 due to high rent. Pictured is the tire showroom  in the 1950s.

Koncar said John Sr. also ‘expected a lot from his employees” but “treated them like family.”

“I can remember as a young girl the ‘store picnics’ he would have each year for his employees and their families, with games and steaks on the grill,” Koncar said in an email. “After he bought his home in Braidwood, he would hold them on his property where he had a lake, bocce ball court and swimming pool, and continued to do so even after he retired. He also always bought each of his employees a turkey for Thanksgiving for many years. My Uncle John [Lucenta] kept up some of these traditions.”

John Sr. retired in 1978. Koncar, one of 11 children, said she was with Lucenta through 1982. So she worked for her uncle, John Lucenta Jr., too, she said.

John Lucenta Sr. started Lucenta Tire in Will County 75 years ago, after coming to the U.S. from Italy as a boy not knowing how to speak English. The last of its six locations closed for good on May 25 due to high rent. Lucenta retired in 1978.

Koncar said her mother, Rosemary (Lucenta) Markun, also worked from the family business. When Markun attended the former College of St. Francis (now University of St. Francis) in Joliet, she walked from the campus to Joliet Street to assist the secretary and bookkeeper, Koncar said.

Lucenta Tire sold other items in its early years - TVs, refrigerators, kitchen stoves, washing machines and dryers - and John Sr.’s brother Sam also ran a radio and TV repair shop, Koncar said.

John Lucenta Sr. started Lucenta Tire in Will County 75 years ago, after coming to the U.S. from Italy as a boy not knowing how to speak English. The last of its six locations closed for good on May 25 due to high rent. Pictured is the TV showroom  in the 1950s.

That’s why Koncar’s own family had a TV. She recalled the story Markun used to share, of the day John Sr. ran out of TVs in his store and took theirs back to sell to a customer.

However, Koncar said her grandfather typically “never handed us things.”

“He always had us work for it,” Koncar said. “I think you can see that in a lot of us. We realized the value of hard work.”

Koncar said John Sr. was born in Italy and immigrated to the United States at age 12 or 13. He was placed in first grade because he could speak English, she said couldn’t speak English.

John Lucenta Sr. started Lucenta Tire in Will County 75 years ago, after coming to the U.S. from Italy as a boy not knowing how to speak English. The last of its six locations closed for good on May 25 due to high rent. Pictured is John Lucenta Sr. near his three-pump gas station on Jefferson Street and Eastern Avenue in Joliet in the 1940s.

By age 16 and with a sixth-grade education, John Sr. quit school to work as a water boy for the EJ&E Railroad in Joliet, she said.

But in 1937, John Sr. bought a single-pump gas station on the corner of Washington Street and Akin Avenue, where women pumped the gas after men were drafted into World War II military service, Koncar said.

John Sr. also helped develop a retail gas dealers association and served as its president, she said.

John Lucenta Sr. started Lucenta Tire in Will County 75 years ago, after coming to the U.S. from Italy as a boy not knowing how to speak English. The last of its six locations closed for good on May 25 due to high rent. Pictured is Lucenta's three-pump gas at its Jefferson Street and Eastern Avenue location in Joliet in the 1940s.

He eventually moved his business to a two-pump gas station at South Chicago Street and Third Avenue and then to a three-pump gas station at Jefferson Street and Eastern Avenue, Koncar said.

In 1946, John Sr. started Lucenta Tire and Battery Supply at 265 N. Chicago St. in Joliet, Koncar said. The business stretched to 263 N. Chicago St. by 1948 and was called Lucenta Tire & Appliance, she said.

John Lucenta Sr. started Lucenta Tire in Will County 75 years ago, after coming to the U.S. from Italy as a boy not knowing how to speak English. The last of its six locations closed for good on May 25 due to high rent. Pictured is the Chicago Street location in Joliet in the 1940s.

In 1953, Lucenta moved to 2 N. Joliet. From 1967 to 1970, John Sr. acquired spaces at 58 W. Washington St. and 62 W. Washington St. for inventory and parking, she said.

Christine Lucenta, office manager, said Lucenta had six locations at its height. The last to remain open, Channahon, closed May 25 due to higher rent, Lucenta said.

Despite cutting his own short, John Sr, “really valued education,” Koncar said.

“[He] opened savings accounts for the grandchildren, to which he and my grandmother would put money every Christmas and birthday for us to use for college,” Koncar said in an email.

Koncar feels her grandfather’s legacy is “his tremendous work ethic” and showing by example that hard work leads to success.

“Even though my grandfather...never completed grade school, it was through much hard work, sacrifice and determination that he was able to grow a successful business,” Koncar said in an email.

John Lucenta Sr. started Lucenta Tire in Will County 75 years ago, after coming to the U.S. from Italy as a boy not knowing how to speak English. The last of its six locations closed for good on May 25 due to high rent. Pictured is Lucenta's three-pump gas at its Jefferson Street and Eastern Avenue location in Joliet in the 1940s.