Theodore Jenkins Cork

Theodore Jenkins (Mr. J)

Meet Theodore Jenkins (Mr. J), a youthful man for all seasons, 90 years young with a wealth of knowledge and experience. We spent an hour and a half together and he amazed this interviewer by his uncanny memory and incredible detail for specific personal historical facts and events.

Mr. J was born and raised in a small town called Bethlehem in Arkansas, a Black farming community. His mom died when he was six years old, and his dad remarried four years later. "I stayed there until I was 17 years old and then decided to leave to see the world on my own." He left on his bicycle.

When he was 20 yrs. old, Mr. J was drafted into the Army and shipped to Ft. Bliss, Texas for Artillery training. He then went to Japan instead of Korea. Being so tall military clothing was hard to come by. The Army tried to get him to pay for his own clothing. It didn't work. The government paid for it, a testament to his perserverance.

On April 20th, 1953, Jenkins shipped to Japan. Apparently, the Army shipped most Negroes to Korea, but he stayed in Japan. Driving a truck and then being an artilleryman on the 120 anti-aircraft guns rounded out his tour of duty in Japan.

Released from the Army, he lived a civilian life for five years and then re-enlisted for the Berlin Crisis in 105 and 155 SP artillery units, Mr. Jenkins served in West Germany as an ammo/fuel truck driver, In all, this tall, lanky gentleman served 20 years, 7 months active duty.

Transferring to Ft. Wainwright, he spent 58 months to finish his enlistment but must have loved the far North country. "It sure is a far cry from Bethlehem, Arkansas!" He smiled his broad grin in saying this.

Mr. J never stopped working. His civilian life has been as active as was his military career. Driving shuttle buses, taxis, civil service jobs, luggage delivery and so many other activities has finally brought him to full retirement. He's worked at Wainwright and Eielson as a civilian.

He has been married to Mary, his beloved wife for 50 years and they have brought five children into this world. They now have four grandchildren and five great grandchildren, He stated that he doesn't do too much in winter, but summers are another thing with lawn work, car repairing and cutting wood. Saying this, he mused, "my aunt had a car and we'd take the tires off the old car and use them as swings and play in the tires." His laugh was infectious, and the interviewer couldn't help laughing with him.

Then Mr. J became serious and lamented that the world is in bad shape. He watches the news on TV. He was 20 years old before he saw his first television show and 50 years old before he saw his first computer. He fears that the U.S. might have a dictator someday, and this concerns him deeply. His last work for pay was just after 911. Some medical problems followed which are now controlled, However, he sees a doctor when needed at Basset Hospital. The interviewer asked, "If you had all the money you wanted, what would you do with it?"

Mr. J. looked at him seriously and said, "I'd watch the news on TV." This led to his discussion of the shape the world is in. He likes MSN.

In wrapping up the interview, I asked Mr. J for lessons he'd learned after 90 years of life, He looked at the interviewer wistfully, smiled his broad all-encompassing way and said: 1. Don't lend money for interest because it is unfair to charge interest to anyone who cannot afford it.
2. Be earnest and don't steal anything from anyone ever.
3. Everyone should have more than one trade.
4. Learn to be resourceful and self-sufficient "and no matter how long I live I will always believe this".
5. Everyone should get along with everyone else and have no enemies.

Words from a man who lives his philosophy from Mr. J. Who can disagree with these pearls of wisdom?

Interview and story by John K. Spitzberg 2/2022
Photo by Santa's Senior Center.

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