Lezlie Sterling / Sacramento Bee file

World War II veteran John Collentine displays his opposition to the Iraq war at a peace rally in Old Sacramento in October 2002.

Obituary: John T. Collentine, 93, led public art tours in downtown Sacramento

Published: Monday, Jun. 9, 2014 - 9:36 pm

John T. Collentine, a World War II veteran and peace advocate with a love of art who led popular tours of public sculptures and murals on the streets of Sacramento, died May 20 after an illness, his family said. He was 93.

Mr. Collentine was a man of Midwestern values who believed in duty and giving back to others. He fought for his country on D-Day, raised a family of seven children with his wife of 65 years and built a successful career as an insurance executive.

A longtime Sacramento resident, he traveled with Downtown Rotary members to service projects in the Philippines and received the club’s prestigious Paul Harris Fellow award for outstanding service. He served as foreman of Sacramento County’s grand jury and was on the board of the YMCA.

He used his standing in the community to promote constructive solutions to global problems. He raised money and was a board member and interim executive director of Solar Cookers International, a Sacramento-based group that promotes solar and thermal technology for cooking food and purifying water in developing countries. As a member of Sacramento Peace Action Network, he spoke out against conflict and joined weekly street protests downtown during the Iraq War.

“You don’t see old men going off to war, and he had seen the futility of war over the years and became involved in trying to prevent another one,” his son Sean said. “Having been in war, he felt like it was incumbent on him to say, ‘Don’t go.’ 

Mr. Collentine also drew attention to Sacramento’s treasure trove of public art. A longtime collector, he took up sculpting in retirement and enrolled in art classes at California State University, Sacramento.

Turning his attention outdoors, he researched and sought out often-overlooked artistic gems on street corners and office buildings and in plazas and parks. He also organized volunteers for a communitywide inventory of sculptures, murals, historical statues and monuments for a national project sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution.

By 1987, he created and began leading his own tours downtown for residents, tourists and art lovers. The informative walks inspired widespread appreciation for Sacramento’s progressive art-in-public-places program.

“They are just something I enjoy doing,” he told The Sacramento Bee in 1989. “I feel strongly that people want to be made aware of the contributions artists have made to their community.

John Thomas Collentine was born Dec. 14, 1920, and raised in Madison, Wis. After graduating from University of Wisconsin, where he was an NCAA champion boxer, he served as a Navy lieutenant junior grade in World War II. He was second-in-command on a landing craft that ferried 150 troops to Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

“There was shooting and bombings and planes and ships all around him,” his son said. “It was a hell of a way to face the world at 23.”

Mr. Collentine earned a law degree at University of Wisconsin and worked in private practice before starting in insurance and joining Northwestern Mutual. He moved to California in 1968 to run the firm’s Sacramento agency and also spent several years in Southern California before retiring in 1985.

In addition to his wife, Tess, a retired teacher, he is survived by five sons, Sean, Dennis, Brian, Patrick and David; two daughters, Ann and Therese; a brother, Patrick; two sisters, Dorothy Butler and Barbara; 15 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

A service in August is being planned. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Solar Cookers International, 1919 21st St., Suite 203, Sacramento, CA 95811.

Read more articles by Robert D. Dávila



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