Joe Jenkins was known for his love of people and the love of the city he served for so many years and, in particular, his trademark saying of “I love Waxahachie, and I know that you will too.”
Jenkins, who held many roles in his life as a council member, mayor, U.S. veteran, father and husband, passed away early Tuesday morning.
Jenkins graduated from Waxahachie High School and enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin. He left UT and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942, volunteering to become a corpsman. He was stationed on the island of Okinawa just before the end of World War II. He was part of the troop buildup for a planned invasion of Japan’s mainland.
“When we received the news that Japan had surrendered, we were still on alert awaiting orders for the invasion,” Jenkins shared with the Sun's Neal White in a previous interview. “I hit my knees right where I stood and said a prayer of thanks to the good Lord.”
Jenkins was discharged from the Navy in the spring 1946 and returned to Waxahachie. In the fall, he re-enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, using the GI Bill to finish his undergraduate studies. He went onto complete his Master of Social Work in 1952, only two years after the UT School of Social Work opened its doors. The school named him its alumnus of the year in 2000.
Jenkins began his career as a social worker, along with raising a family. They moved first to West Texas, then Springfield, Illinois, and then on to Chicago.
“Social work was my life career,” Jenkins told the Utopian, UT School of Social Work’s magazine in March 2018. “I am so proud to be one of the first-class members. It was an exciting time in the profession and I am proud I helped develop the standards of home care across the country.”
Jenkins moved back to Waxahachie in 1994 after more than 50 years of service. Having a desire to serve the community he grew up in, he ran for city council and was elected to office in May 2000 and served through 2010. During his time on the council, Jenkins was appointed as the city’s mayor. The city honored his service to the community with a formal proclamation declaring Nov. 10, 2010, as Joe Jenkins Day.
Jenkins continued to serve after his departure from the council and was named a board member of the Waxahachie Senior Center Advisory Committee. In September 2015, the Waxahachie Downtown Merchants Association honored him for his service with a tree planted downtown, across the street from the Dove’s Nest Restaurant and Gift Shop on West Jefferson.
A stone in front of the tree reads, “This tree was planted in honor of Joe Jenkins, former mayor and city councilman for his dedication and support of the Waxahachie Downtown Merchants Association.” The stone also is inscribed with Jenkins’ personal motto of “I love Waxahachie.”
His public service touched many areas, as well. He served as a volunteer with Meals on Wheels of Johnson and Ellis Counties, the Ellis County Museum and served as a board member (six years) and advisor (four years) for the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce. He was a member of First United Methodist in Waxahachie and its Builders Sunday school class.
Jenkins also was honored as the 2004 Waxahachie Citizen of the Year as part of the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards dinner. He was also awarded the chamber's Mabel Frame Award for tourism in 1999.