LOUIS AGNES didn't hesitate to get his hands dirty.
From the time he was old enough to pick up a hammer, he worked in the small construction company founded in 1918 by his father, Pellegrino Agnes, an Italian immigrant.
He worked side by side with his father as they sought to make a success of the struggling company, always keeping in mind the values of honesty and hard work that would characterize the family and the company through the decades.
Today, P. Agnes Builders is one of the region's most prominent and busiest construction companies, with numerous multimillion-dollar projects.
Much of its success is attributed to the vision and organizational qualities of Louis Agnes, his family said.
Louis Agnes, who led the company for more than 30 years, a community activist, Navy veteran of World War II and devoted family patriarch, died Wednesday. He was 97 and lived in South Philadelphia.
"Lou Agnes was that rare individual, a man of extraordinary vision, leadership and dedication who happily shared his experience and expertise in a quiet, thoughtful manner," his family said. "We are grateful to have had him in our lives."
As Lou was working in his father's company, his family made sacrifices to see to it that he got a college education. He graduated from Penn State University with a degree in architectural engineering.
Lou's career was interrupted by World War II. He entered the Navy in 1942. He served as port director in Curacao and also served in Pearl Harbor, Okinawa and Tokyo.
After his discharge in 1946, he rejoined the family business and set about expanding the company to what it is today.
Lou grew up in South Philadelphia. His mother was Anna Agnes. He graduated from South Philadelphia High School.
When he started working for his father's company, it was largely devoted to residential work. A kitchen-remodeling job was a big event.
Gradually, under his leadership, it moved into commercial projects. One of its most recent jobs was a $325 million patient tower for Lankenau Hospital with 96 beds and a heart and vascular pavilion.
It also recently renovated the University of Pennsylvania's famed Palestra and the Hutchinson Gymnasium, a $22 million job.
His son, Jay Agnes, who now runs the company, said his father always insisted on strict ethical standards, with an emphasis on bringing in the jobs on or under schedule with no cost overruns.
"Dad always said if you want respect, you have to give respect," Jay said. "He was kind and compassionate, but he was a strict disciplinarian. He could be tough."
Jay said his father was still coming into the office into his 90s. In fact, he said, he was in the office just six weeks ago.
Lou Agnes was active in his community as well as in his business. He served on the board of Boy Scouts of America and the Philadelphia chapter of UNICO National, an Italian-American service organization.
He also was on the boards of the Methodist Hospital Foundation and Prudential Savings & Loan.
He was a founding member of the National Society of Architectural Engineers and the Penn State Alumni Association.
For relaxation, Lou enjoyed golfing. He was a lifetime member of the Llanerch Country Club in Delaware County.
Besides his son, he is survived by a daughter, Beverlea Auer; a sister, Mae Pasquariello; four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife, the former Rita Adelizzi.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia, 1166 S. Broad St., Philadelphia PA 19146.
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