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 Tribute

Published

 February, 2007

Synopsis

 Mrs. Nancy Jenkins lived a full life devoted to children

MzzJenkins

By Al Owens
Uniontown, Pennsylvania is the home of The School of Champions. The School of Champions would never have been called that, if it hadn’t been for The Playground of Champions. East End playground, tucked precariously behind East End school just off Main Street in Uniontown, was the launch pad for athletic dominance that helped fill all those banners that cover the walls of A.J. Everhart Gymnasium. The ones that rarely need updated these days. But that’s another column. (The one about mediocrity and wishful thinking being the only source of pride for those who’ve now trashed a once proud tradition, while attempting to construct monuments to themselves. If you catch my drift)

There, on that Playground of Champions when I was a child, we all had one thing in common. Not Mrs. Mary Nancy Hicks Jenkins, or Mrs. Nancy Jenkins – MzzJenkins!

When you’re an 8 year-old and your entire life boils down to the means and methods of play – any adult who stands at the gate to that endeavor must suffer the contraction of their names. So, Mrs. Nancy Jenkins (the East End playground director) became MzzJenkins.

And she heard her name dozens of times every weekday in the summer on East End Playground. “MzzJenkins, they won’t let me play with them”. “MzzJenkins, I have to go to the bathroom.” “MzzJenkins, they keep picking on me.” All of this for most of us, would have been the reason we moved to Brownsville. But not for MzzJenkins.

She was an amazingly patient woman. She’d address even the most troubling concern about any of us, with such style and charm that no problem seemed that much of a deal in the first place.

Oh, it’s not like we didn’t have real problems up there on the playground. It’s just that MzzJenkins came fully prepared to handle them all of them. East End playground was in the East End of Uniontown. It’s a part of our community where self-image wasn’t always in over-abundance. MzzJenkins just knew how to make you feel good about yourself. Showing dignity and respect to any child, can help lift them up long enough so they can regain the will to play.

MzzJenkins spent a decade and a half tending to the spirited children up there on the playground. She’d work hand-in-hand with J.S. “Bus” Albright (who handled the entire city of Uniontown playground system in those days) to make sure we got what every kid in Uniontown got.

Monday nights were movie nights. MzzJenkins knew that on those nights, a sheet would be hung on the north fence of that playground. Darkness would fall and children would find it hard to sit still long enough to watch what would appear on that makeshift screen. A test of wills would follow. Dozens of children on one side - with MzzJenkins on the other. MzzJenkins always seemed to win. Not with harsh words, but with the determination of somebody who could stand in the eye of an adolescent hurricane and calm it with a smile.

There would be picnics and playground tournaments and field trips and arts and crafts and sandlot everything that had been planned with the ease and grace of this great lady. Summer meant another challenge for her, and glorious play for us.

When MzzJenkins wasn’t helping us work off our energies on the playground, she would be helping to build our spiritual enthusiasm at Mt. Rose Baptist Church. She was our Sunday School superintendent there – only a few hundred feet from the playground.

She was the same “MzzJenkins” there too. Full of life, and dressed impeccably – without a hint of self-importance. There wasn’t a children’s program at Mt. Rose that existed without her guidance.

I considered myself blessed to have seen her six days a week, instead of the five the kids who didn’t go to my church saw her - because I belonged to Mt. Rose Church.

There were times away from the playground and church I saw MzzJenkins. I lived a few hundred feet away from her. Whenever I’d walk by her house, MzzJenkins and Mr. Jenkins would sometimes engage me in conversation. We had serious conversations that must have been mighty awkward for them. They were two adults speaking to an 8 year-old as if he was worthy their sincere interest.

It wasn’t until I got much older that I realized I wasn’t particularly special. That I must have been just one of many young people who passed by their home, and who felt the same way I did.

They were holding a mirror up to us and asking us to take a nice long look. That what we saw was good enough for them, and that that was all that mattered!

Nancy Jenkins died on January 30th, 2007 after giving most of her life to the service of Uniontown’s youngest citizens.