Generations of schoolchildren have used books and products from the family company Kent Follett helped run.
Mr. Follett, 79, died of heart problems May 28 at a hospital near Tierra Verde, Fla., where he lived part of the year, said his grandson Frank Gentile.
He started at Follett Corporation in 1960 and worked his way up to president of its used-textbook arm.
The business, founded in Wheaton in 1873, was purchased in the 1920s by his grandfather C.W. Follett, who had started with the company as a stock clerk. Kent Follett was a third-generation member of the company. Today, fifth-generation relatives including Gentile have begun working at Follett, a $3.6 billion privately-held corporation based in Westchester.
He was “a really good guide for me,” said his nephew Todd Litzsinger, a “fourth-gen” who chairs Follett Corporation. “He would always say to me, ‘Keep taking care of this business. We worked hard for this.’ ”
Follett has expanded from its founding as a home-based bookstore into what the company says is “the world’s largest single source of books, entertainment products, digital content and multi-media for libraries, schools and retailers.” It suppliesan estimated 70,000 schools and operates more than 1,200 college bookstores across North America. It also provides books, movies and music to online sellers and traditional retailers and even adult coloring books to the Michaels arts-and-crafts store chain.
Kent Follett attended Oak Park-River Forest High School and what’s now known as St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wis. He later served in the U.S. Army.
He spent 43 years with Follett Corporation, retiring in 2003.
The former River Forest resident enjoyed sports cars and cigarette boats, which he piloted on Paw Paw Lake and the waters near New Buffalo, Michigan, where he lived in the summer. “He was always on the water,” Gentile said.
“He loved his toys,” Litzsinger said. “He was very adventurous that way. He taught the third generation and the fourth generation how to water-ski.”
He enjoyed CB radio, so he named one boat “Sugar Candy,” using the CB “handles” for two of his daughters. Another boat was named “Kensters Jules” after his wife of 25 years, Julie “Jules” Grove Danza Follett. He liked collecting pens, especially Montblancs, Gentile said.
In retirement, he and his wife started Fotos by Folletts, a photo business specializing in the entertainment industry.
One musician they photographed, Carl Giammarese of the The Buckinghams — the Chicago band that rose to stardom in the 1960s with hits “Kind of a Drag,” “Susan,” “Don’t You Care” and “Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song)” — posted a tribute on Facebook.
“The Fotos by Folletts’ beautiful pictures of The Buckinghams through the years were their gifts to us,”Giammarese wrote. “He was an internationally respected [business leader]; but around the music, he was just ‘our friend, Kent,’ who loved our music.. . . .Through his camera he was an artist.”
Mr. Follett was a supporter of The Sessions, an organization founded by his wife that educates musicians about music careers and money management, and another group, Little Kids Rock, that supports pop-rock music education for kids, according to Gentile.
Mr. Follett’s first marriage, to Maryan Follett, ended in divorce. His second wife, Wilma, died of cancer. In addition to Julie “Jules” Follett, he is survived by daughters Sharon Dotson, Candace Gentile and Linda Melin; a son, Thomas “T.J.” Danza; a brother, Ross; 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Visitation is 3 to 9 p.m. Friday at Hursen Funeral Home in Westchester. A funeral is planned for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Westchester.