John and Judy Lentini
John and Judy Lentini
Judy Lentini
Judy Lentini

By Su Byron

Establishing the Judith Kaye Lentini Endowed Scholarship hardly sounds like a love story.

But that’s exactly what it is. Or more accurately—it’s two love stories. The first follows the story beats of a Hollywood rom-com. The second is about a family’s passionate support for educational opportunities for underserved communities.

Judy and John

It was love at first sight—at least for John Lentini.

He had just arrived in Sarasota to begin his first year at New College in 1969. Judy Kaye was there to greet him at the airport. A second-year New College student, she was part of the welcoming committee sent to greet new arrivals. While wrangling with luggage, John Lentini and Judy Kaye struck up a conversation.

They quickly discovered they had something in common. They both came from New England families of nine children whose first names began with the letter “J.”

John Lentini recalled, “I looked at her and said, ‘What are the odds? I guess we’re meant to be together. It must be destiny!’”

But that’s not when the romance began.

“When I said ‘destiny,’ Judy told me, gently, to back off. It took her 10 years to finally come around to my way of thinking,” he said.

Romance would have to wait. But John Lentini and Judy Kaye remained good friends throughout their time at New College.

As John Lentini recalled, “I was studying ‘natural science with a pinch of social science and a pinch of humanities.’ Judy was mostly studying humanities, so we didn’t run into each a lot in classes. I do remember she used to visit me and my roommate, Steven Linsner, and usually ended up cleaning our dorm. I guess we weren’t very neat.”

After graduating in 1973 with a degree in chemistry, John Lentini went on to complete graduate courses in chemistry and criminal investigation at the University of Akron, Ohio. Thanks to the OPEC oil embargo, good jobs for chemists were impossible to find. But John Lentini’s father had good advice.

“My dad was a cop and he suggested I try forensic science,” he said.

John Lentini followed his father’s advice and accepted a position at the Atlanta-based Georgia Crime Laboratory in 1974. Judy Kaye continued her studies in graduate school and earned a master’s degree in cell biology from the University of Connecticut.

Throughout the years, they kept up with each other through regular correspondence and occasional visits. As their relationship blossomed into a romance, she moved to Atlanta to be closer to him.

Things got serious when they were driving from Atlanta to attend a New College reunion in 1976.

“Judy basically proposed in the car,” John Lentini laughed. “I had asked her to marry me several times over the years. She told me that she’d been telling people that I was her fiancé and maybe it was time to finally tie the knot. I took her up on it.”

Building a Family

Destiny was finally fulfilled. They were married and blessed with a son and daughter. Carrying on their families’ shared tradition, they named them “Julia” and “Jerald.”

In the years that followed, John Lentini became a renowned forensic fire investigator. He is one of a handful of people in the nation to have been certified to conduct both fire scene investigations and fire debris analysis.

Judy Kaye Lentini became deeply involved with public education and fought to enable access to education for underprivileged students in Marietta, Georgia, where the family lived.

The two also passed on the values they’d learned at New College to their children. A love of learning and independent thought. But also an awareness of social injustice—and a commitment to sharing the value of learning with marginalized groups.

Julia Lentini Marquis studied comparative religion at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, and is now an attorney for CVS Health. She and her wife, Heather, have two children and have carried on the family naming tradition with their daughter and son, Jude and Jack.

“Although I didn’t attend New College, I have a great deal of respect for the brilliance of its students,” Marquis said. “It’s a unique microcosm of the world that allows wildly intelligent, often non-conforming folks to find a space and place to be themselves. I also know how much my mom valued New College. She was always willing to recruit for the school in Atlanta and occasionally traveled to college fairs to meet with local students to encourage their attendance at New College.”

Jerald Lentini ended up at New College, albeit via a convoluted route.

“As strange as it seems, for me, growing up with two Novos for parents, it felt like I was always supposed to attend New College, which is why I ran hard in the other direction out of high school,” Jerald Lentini said. “I spent my first year of college at Albion College in mid-Michigan, pledged a fraternity, and tried to have the all-American college experience.”

Jerald Lentini quickly felt he wasn’t being challenged academically—or in full control of his own education. That prompted a decision. He applied to New College and was quickly accepted.

“In the middle of winter in 2003, I packed up my truck, got on I-75, and pointed myself south,” he said.

Jerald Lentini thrived at New College in his highly challenging studies of political science, and graduated in 2007. From there, he earned his J.D. from Georgetown Law in 2011. Jerald Lentini and his wife, Lauren, live in Manchester, Connecticut, and also continued the naming tradition, with their son, Jordan.

And then then tragedy struck.

Leaving a Legacy

Judy Kaye Lentini—beloved wife, mother, spiritual guide and best friend—passed away in 2010 at the age of 58 from lung cancer. The family grieved deeply and, in time, sought ways to keep her legacy alive.

She had always supported education, and an endowment in her name would do the same. The family also agreed that New College had always been close to her heart—and would be an ideal beneficiary. Those were the broad outlines. But funding the legacy wouldn’t happen overnight.

The Lentinis’ plans to establish a solid legacy became a reality in late 2020. After a quick family conference, Jay, Jerald and Lauren, and Julia and Heather, decided each would contribute a significant gift to New College to establish the “Judith Kaye Lentini Endowed Scholarship.” The scholarship empowers underrepresented minority students in their pursuit of higher education at New College.

“When we were kids, our mother always sent in extra field trip money for the kids who otherwise might not be able to attend to ensure they got the same experiential learning opportunities the rest of the students did,” Marquis said. “Education was her passion project and ensuring that students had equal access to the same education was her fervent hope. An educational scholarship helps continue her legacy in that regard.”

Marquis added that funding this scholarship at “a place she held so dear, the place she met my dad—her best friend of 40 years and husband of almost 31 years—and the place where my brother chose to attend, makes perfect sense. Selecting scholarship recipients of color who might not otherwise have resources to attend New College feels right because it reinforces her commitment to equity and access in education for all.”

Jerald Lentini agreed.

“My mother loved New College,” he said. “She’d be over the moon to know her legacy will grow a new crop of non-conformists in the future.”

“When I have to make a tough decision, I always ask, ‘What would Judy do?,” John Lentini said. “I think this scholarship is exactly what she’d want to do. Judy was always passionate about both children’s education, and social equality and inclusion. She was PTA president at our kids’ elementary school—but she’d only let them participate in activities that were open to everybody. This scholarship opens the door to the New College experience to a new generation of minority students. I know Judy would approve.”

What does the family want scholarship recipients to know about this remarkable woman?

“My mom was an incredibly compassionate, caring, wicked smart woman who made people feel like they belonged from the moment she met them,” Marquis said. “In large part, I think New College made her feel like she belonged, and I love the symmetry of carrying on her personal legacy through this scholarship.”

Jerald Lentini added, “During my time at New College, several of my close friends had to leave school because they couldn’t afford to stay. As long as we continue to treat education like a commodity and students like consumers, smart and talented people will be left out. My hope is that this scholarship will help make coming to New College financially possible for students who otherwise might not be able to afford a four-year degree, and that their presence will make the school a stronger place for every student.”

To donate to the Judith Kaye Lentini Endowed Scholarship fund, visit

Su Byron is the communications specialist for the New College Foundation.

Founded in Sarasota in 1960, New College of Florida is a top-ranked public liberal arts college and the state’s Honors College of Florida. New College prepares intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement by providing a highly individualized education that integrates academic rigor with career-building experiences. New College offers 45 undergraduate majors in arts, humanities and sciences, a master’s degree program in applied data science, and certificates in technology, finance, and business skills.

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