Community activist John Jenkins dies at 77
By CHRISTINA K. COSDON, Times Staff Writer
CLEARWATER- Lois Cormier will never forget the first thing she saw when she woke up after open heart surgery last April. Longtime friend and neighbor John Jenkins was praying over her.
She wasn't surprised the hospital let him in. "You couldn't say no to John," she said.
John Jenkins could be found praying for a friend, driving a neighbor who missed the bus to work or buying groceries for a sick friend.
He might also be cutting up a neighbor's fallen tree, working to get a fishing dock, restrooms and picnic tables for the neighborhood park or walking and driving around his south Clearwater community in the fight against crime and drugs.
The 56-year Clearwater resident and community activist died Monday at home. He was 77.
Friends said he never complained about the pain of arthritis that had slowed him in the past year.
He still attended most meetings of the South Clearwater Citizens for Progressive Action, for which he had served as vice president since 1991. But he wasn't his usual cheerful self at last Wednesday's meeting, said Mrs. Cormier. "He came in very quietly with his wife, Bernice. She said he wasn't feeling very well."
Last month he told a worried Isay Gulley, executive director of the nonprofit Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Service, that he couldn't do his usual job of handling the parking lot for the Phillies baseball games. From 1993 to 2002, he raised $64,355 in parking revenue, which was divided between the city and the Housing Service, Mrs. Gulley said.
Mr. Jenkins' volunteer work began in 1985, shortly after he retired from a 32-year career as a porter and freight handler with the Atlantic Coastline Railroad.
"He came into my office one day and said he had just retired and needed something to do," Mrs. Gulley recalled.
He started out in the agency's Outreach committee and worked up to board member. The housing agency's parent company, Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp., made it possible for Jenkins to attend training programs around the country.
"He became a very skilled, knowledgeable volunteer," Mrs. Gulley said. No job was too small for him, she said.
In 1993, he received the 39th annual David Bilgore Memorial Award for humanitarian service contributing to the quality of life in the community and the SEPIA-Vivian Henry Award. In 1997, he was one of nine volunteers honored nationwide by Neighborhood Reinvestment. He received the Dorothy Richardson Award in Los Angeles for his efforts in making his community a better, safer place to live. His photograph hangs in the Atlanta regional office of Neighborhood Reinvestment, Mrs. Gulley said.
"He wanted to work, but not for pay," Mrs. Gulley said. "How many people could or would do that? He was such a blessing. We're going to start a down payment assistance fund in his name -- the John Jenkins Housing Assistance Fund -- because he believed so much in trying to move people into home ownership."
Pastor Randy Morris of Woodlawn Church of God said he met Mr. Jenkins 18 years ago. Over the years, he came to regard Mr. Jenkins and his wife like a father and mother, he said. "All the family members carry that same sense of integrity," he said. "Maybe that's what defines him to me -- the level of integrity and godliness that he exuded with every word he said and the way he kind of hobbled around. He was a good man. South Clearwater will miss such a vital, positive role model."
He was like a brother to Duke Tieman.
"I became president of the South Clearwater Citizens for Progressive Action neighborhood association in 1991, and John's been my first vice president ever since," Tieman said. "He was a positive inspiration for everybody around here. I never had one, but to me, he was like a brother. We just always felt our whole area was a family. I always called him brother John."
Mr. Jenkins was alert to the goings-on in his neighborhood and had a photographic memory. "He never missed anything," Tieman said.
Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein appointed Mr. Jenkins to serve on a Citizens Response Team, the members of which work with police to try to bring peace and order to potentially explosive situations.
He was a deacon at St. John Missionary Baptist Church and had headed a prison ministry.
Son-in-law William Robinson of Atlanta spoke for the family Tuesday. "He was a faithful and devoted husband and father," he said. "He enjoyed helping people, and I think that's going to be the greatest loss for all those lives he affected, because he was always there."
In addition to his wife, Bernice, survivors include two sons, John Jr. and Samuel Milton Flagler, both of Clearwater; four daughters, Victoria Robinson, Atlanta, Mattie Odums, Clearwater, Deborah Cage, Syracuse, N.Y., and Mae Catherine Atkins, St. Petersburg; 19 grandchildren; and 16 great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Young's Funeral Home, 1005 Howard St., Clearwater. Funeral service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 1500 Pennsylvania Ave., Clearwater, followed by burial at Parklawn Cemetery in Dunedin.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
North Pinellas desks