Joe Jenkins is considered by many to be a true modern-day patriarch for his efforts and dedication to begin the revitalization of downtown Waxahachie. He also helped spur the population and business boom of the early 2000s during his six terms as "Mayor Joe," a name he went by well after his leaving office.
His joyous approach to community service, quick wit and even a catchphrase or two are true testaments to his legacy.
The homegrown champion of the Gingerbread Capital passed away Tuesday.
Jenkins was 93 years young. He was preceded in death by his wife, Jan Jenkins, who passed away on Jan. 28, 2018. The two married on Aug. 25, 1995, and were members of First United Methodist Church in Waxahachie.
Services for Jenkins are tentatively scheduled to include a visitation from 6-9 p.m. Friday, June 28 at Wayne Boze Funeral Home in Waxahachie. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 29 at a location to be determined.
It was just under four years ago that Jenkins celebrated his 90th birthday with 25 family members and even more friends at his beloved home on Sycamore Street in Waxahachie.
He told the Daily Light on that day that he wouldn't have dreamt of celebrating the occasion anywhere else.
"This is where my heart is. To me, this is the happiest place in the world," Jenkins said. "It only made sense to want to spend my birthday in this house, in this city — the best city in the whole world, mind you — surrounded by my family and my friends. I'll tell you; life just doesn't get any better than this."
Jenkins graduated from Waxahachie High and was then attending the University of Texas at Austin when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942. He was serving as a hospital corpsman in Okinawa when World War II ended.
"We were told they were estimating more than 1 million casualties in the invasion," Jenkins previously told the Daily Light. "I give God thanks that we never had to find out."
He also recalled his honorable discharge from the Navy in 1946 as "the best summer" of his life.
Jenkins promptly used his GI Bill to re-enroll at UT, eventually obtaining a bachelor's and master's degree. He graduated from Austin in the very first class to earn a degree in social work in Texas.
His career in social work spanned for the better part of the next five decades, leading Jenkins and family to move from West Texas to Springfield, Illinois and then Chicago. He eventually retired and returned home to Waxahachie to live in his childhood home on Sycamore Street.
Not long after returning home, Jenkins was elected to the city council in May 2000, ultimately serving the city at-large from city hall through 2010. That stint included six terms as mayor from 2002-08, which came during the height of the city's growth.
"Every decision he made and the way he carried himself, it was always about what's good for the community," recalled Waxahachie City Manager Michael Scott, who has worked alongside and known Jenkins for the better part of 19 years. "He did not have an agenda on the city council at all. It was just what was good for the community, and that's what the last impression that I will always take from knowing Joe was his care for the community."
Scott added, "He would run a meeting like nobody else," recalling Jenkins' patience with concerned citizens, which taught Scott to respect the opinions of others and to exercise the role of public service positively.
State Rep. John Wray, who served with Jenkins for two years on the Waxahachie City Council, stated in an email correspondence that he was saddened to hear of the passing.
"He was kind and patient and exuded an air that made everyone feel welcomed and at home in Waxahachie," Wray stated. "His life was dedicated to making his community a better place, and he leaves behind a legacy of having accomplished his goal. I will miss him."
Jenkins later served as a board member on the Senior Center Advisory Committee, even receiving the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce Nonprofit of the Year award on the center's behalf in 2014.
"He supported the senior center and for 10 years he sat on the board," said Jeanee Smiles, the director of the Senior Activity Center. "His leadership, wisdom and knowledge helped me and my predecessor make this facility the center it is today.
"[...] He had the best sense of humor ever. He'd make you laugh and make you mad in the same sentence. You couldn't not love this man The love he had for his children, his Jan — his beloved Jan — and his community. He gave everything of himself back."
Smiles recalled Jenkins attending Texas Rangers baseball games on senior outings, enjoying the STEM garden (especially when over 100 kindergartners visited), and the way he would "stop and chat with everyone" at the center.
Smiles was with Jenkins in his final days, noting that she had comfort knowing he was with his beloved wife and could now watch over the community he held so dear. She also assured that the legacy of Jenkins would continue at the senior center
"I know he will always be part of Waxahachie," Smiles added. "Just because he isn't walking these senior center halls doesn't mean he will ever be forgotten."
Jenkins also served in various capacities with the Waxahachie Community Development Corporation board and Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, as well as a beloved volunteer at the Ellis County Museum.
He even played the role as Mayor of Munchkinland during the Waxahachie High School theater department's production of "The Wizard of Oz" in 2009.
"He always did things right," said Laurie Mosley, who currently serves as the director of the Waxahachie Convention and Visitors Bureau after becoming a public servant in 2001. "You never had to question if he did the right thing. He was always going to be fair. Those are the things that stand out to me."
As the tourism director, Mosley is commonly asked, "How do you say, 'Waxahachie?' "It's a question she enjoys hearing, as it brings back memories of Jenkins explaining, "A chicken walkie before it Hachie."
Mosley also recalled a particular trip in 2007 that included Jenkins, Jennifer Howell, Waxahachie Economic Development Director Doug Barnes, former Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce president Debra Wakeland and former chamber chairman Teresa McNeil. The group was headed to Laredo for the 44th Annual U.S./Mexico National Sister Cities Association Conference convention to find the "Mexican sister city" to Waxahachie, with hopes of learning how to enhance tourism and the local economy.
However, as the group approached the gate in haste, they were nearly turned away, having just missed the boarding time.
"We explained to them, 'We've got the mayor of Waxahachie. He's got to be in an opening ceremony. We've got to find our Mexican sister city,' "Mosley recalled. "Anyway, they were like, 'What?' And they held the plane."
She added with a laugh, "They held the airplane for the mayor of Waxahachie. That's always been one of my fun stories."
It's those types of stories and quirkiness that will forever reside in the hearts of those who encountered Jenkins.
"He was just a kind, honorable man," said Waxahachie city secretary Lori Cartwright, who worked alongside Jenkins and is honored to call him a friend. "He loved — and you'll hear this over and over — loved Waxahachie and its citizens and its visitors. He truly cared for this community and the way she showed that was by serving as a council member and then mayor."
In February 2015, Jenkins was honored by the Waxahachie Downtown Merchants Association with a live oak tree planted across the street from The Dove's Nest Restaurant and Gift Shop on West Jefferson Street in downtown.
In front of the tree sits an engraved stone that reads, "This tree was planted honor of Joe Jenkins, former mayor and city councilman, for his dedication and support of the Waxahachie Downtown Merchants Association."
The stone also features an oft-used phrase that Jenkins famously, at least locally, coined: "I love Waxahachie and I know you do, too!"
And it's true. We do love Waxahachie, hopefully as much as he did. But it's also abundantly clear that Waxahachie loved Mayor Jenkins, too.