LEWISTON —  Area residents were joined Saturday by people from across the country as they gathered at the Lewiston Armory to pay tribute to the former mayor of both Lewiston and Auburn.

A “Celebration of Life” for John T. Jenkins was open to the public, and attendees were encouraged to share memories of the former mayor and state senator. Guest books were available for attendees to record their own memories and anecdotes of Jenkins.

The gathering was organized by Ann Parker, Jenkins’ longtime partner, and it capped a weekend of celebration that included the dedication of a walking bridge in his name. Jenkins died Sept. 30, 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the opportunity to publicly celebrate one of the Lewiston-Auburn area’s most beloved community bridge builders.

Ann Parker, left, accepts the Benjamin Mays Black Alumni Society Award on behalf of John Jenkins. The presentation was made by former Bates College student Chuck James. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

As the attendees entered, they were greeted by three rows of physical mementos from Jenkins’ life: T-shirts and sweaters from his days as a student at Bates College, windbreakers from his mayoral tenures, and martial arts uniforms draped over folding tables on one side. Katanas, trophies, license plates, and certificates stood proudly on the other.

The memorial was an amalgamation of spoken and sung testaments to the influence Jenkins had on the personal and professional lives of citizens of Lewiston and Auburn and others. Speakers included Mayors Carl Sheline of Lewiston and Jason Levesque of Auburn, and Bates College Dean James Reese. Musical performances included Kathy Haley, Deb Morin, Greg Boardman and Denny Breau, who performed “Love Can Build a Bridge,” “The Wind Beneath My Wings” and “Go Rest High on the Mountain.”

“From a public official to motivational speaker to business owner to athlete to role model for youth, John gave his all and left a powerful legacy of love to all members of our community,” said Sheline.


“I know Ann, John’s partner, wanted a celebration where people could properly pay their respects to John. Ann, this is exactly the kind of celebration of life John deserves, one where our community comes together to say goodbye to the man himself, and hello to the possibilities of our carrying on his legacy,” he said.

Additional speakers included Bates alum and Jenkins’ friend Chuck James, who presented Parker with the Benjamin Mays Black Alumni Society Award on Jenkins’ behalf, and Egon Abdul Lateef, Jenkins’ nephew, who shared treasured memories of his uncle during the summers he and his brother Abdul visited Lewiston.

“Just thinking back to me and my brother growing up and having Teddy there and then coming up here, it was always just us two. Those are the fond memories and lessons that he tried to instill within us. There was that fun side where he’d come home and we’d hang from his muscles and always mock-fighting,” said Lateef.

“When we’d come up here, he wanted to give us something to take back to our lives that we could use to change what we were,” Lateef said. “Looking at how he took this community and made it cohesive. All these folks coming together from different races, cultures and ethnic backgrounds, and they all loved him the same way as we do. That’s just special.”

Jenkins, who died in 2020 of esophageal cancer, was the first African American mayor of Lewiston and the first Black state senator when he was elected in 1996.

The Lewiston Fire and Police Color Guard present the colors at the Celebration of Life for former Mayor John Jenkins on Saturday. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Anecdotes shared by speakers included those of Jenkins’ college days; his love of food; martial arts; and Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September”; as well as his infectious joie de vivre – or enjoyment of life.


“(Jenkins) would have been smiling, he probably would’ve thought that his work was still continuing, it’s not over,” said Mujiba Wadud, Lateef’s mother and Jenkins’ sister, looking out on the celebration. She came with her family from Newark, New Jersey.

“It was bittersweet, inspirational, motivational, keep it moving, no matter what, because he did so much and he never stopped even when he got sick,” she said. “It was very motivational.”

The ceremony was topped off with a video presentation of photographs from throughout Jenkins’ life set to “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban and “If I can Dream” by Elvis Presley, as well as another performance by the musical ensemble.

“The ceremony was an amazing testament to John and his life and his impact on everyone,” said Sherry Knudsen, Jenkins’ classmate at Bates who traveled from her home in Waterbury Center, Vermont. “He was an amazing human being who I wanted to remember.”

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