Gene C. Costa, 81, of Runnemede, a longtime South Jersey entrepreneur whose ventures included answering services and hubcap distribution, died of emphysema on Wednesday, July 28, at his home.

While working at his father's Esso station in Glassboro in the late 1940s, Mr. Costa developed a love of cars.

A few years later, he started working at Costa Motor Sales, a used-car dealership his two brothers had opened in Glassboro. Mr. Costa eventually took over the business and managed operations until its closing in the mid-1960s.

While managing the dealership, he created an answering-service center, which at the time was innovative, said his daughter Denise Durkin. The service was designed "for the modern business," a brochure read, and provided service around the clock.

"The operator would take the call like a secretary would," Durkin said.

After a successful first year, Mr. Costa opened another answering service in 1959, in Woodbury. Both services were phased out as technology advanced.

Mr. Costa worked at a number of dealerships in South Jersey. Though he was described as having a good sense of humor, his longtime companion Jo Ann Wrysec said, he was all business when it came to selling cars.

He retired from auto sales in 1991. But, unable to sit still, he started distributing hubcaps from his home.

"He had a passion for the business world," his daughter said. "He loved starting new business ventures."

Orders for hubcaps were still coming in at the time of Mr. Costa's death, his family said.

Mr. Costa also kept coming up with side businesses, such as selling jewelry out of his home, his daughter said. He also loved to work in his garden.

Mr. Costa was born and raised in Glassboro, graduating from high school there in 1947. He later attended Peirce College.

He married Nancy Van Doren in 1950; they later divorced. She died in 1995.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Costa is survived by son Richard; nine grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and a brother.

A celebration luncheon will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 31, at Masso's, 210 S. Delsea Dr., Glassboro. Services will be private.

Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or