A Life Lived: The end of the story for former Star Editor Bill Jenkins

Published 5:30 pm Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Bill Jenkins earned many titles in life — husband, father, veteran, ballplayer, sports writer, newspaper editor, to name the ones we are most familiar with.
But the one he was most proud of was “Christian.” Bill was a faithful member of Valley Forge Free Will Baptist Church, and he was always quick to share his faith. More than once he shared, “It was God who brought me home from the war. Any success I have enjoyed was because of God. He gave me my family and supplied my needs, and has helped me through the difficult times in my life.”
Bill shared this testimony and faith with me a few years ago as we sat on a bench at the Cat Island Park after he had finished his daily walk. More than once he had shared this testimony. But, this day he shared the loneliness he had experienced since the deaths of his wife, Flo, and twin brother, Henry. Yet, he was encouraging and remained upbeat, noting he still had his health and much for which to be thankful.
Bill grew up in the Valley Forge community and chose to live and raise his family there.
I first became friends with Bill when I came to work at the Elizabethton STAR in October, 1960. Bill was managing editor and he and Frank Robinson gave me an opportunity at a reporter’s job. My first memories of Bill were those of “ripping the wire.” This meant picking up the curly-cue pile of wire copy that had accumulated during the night from United Press International and ripping it into individual stories with a ruler or the edge of his desk on which set an old manual typewriter.
Every morning, Bill sorted through that mess of wire copy, selecting news stories and items for that day’s edition of the paper.
As did many reporters and editors of that day and time, he “hunted and pecked” the keys on an old manual typewriter as he put together a sports story or a column for that day. His life’s work consisted mostly of sports, the news, and the newspaper.
Just as he was faithful to his church, he was faithful to his work, rarely missing a day, and always on time. As seriously as he took his job, he also savored the fun of it. He enjoyed laying back in his chair, feet propped on his desk, and sharing a story with co-workers, or bantering with Lucy Ward, who enjoyed putting wrinkles in his forehead.
Bill loved the game of baseball, and often took time each July to attend the All-Star Major League Game. He had played semi-pro baseball and served as manager of the old Valley Forge Reds. He earned a spot on the 1948 Six Star League Team as a second baseman.
The Valley Forge Reds, organized in 1938, disbanded during World War II. After the war, the team reorganized and became one of the strongest semi-pro teams from the county and area as well as clubs from North Carolina.
In addition to the Reds, Bill also played on a baseball club at Fort Jackson, S.C. He served five years in the United States Army during World War II, in which he served 18 months overseas. During his military tour of duty, Bill was involved in five major campaigns as an infantryman in Europe and received the Purple Heart.
When professional baseball returned to Elizabethton in the 1970s, Jenkins served as official team scorer for the Elizabethton Twins and was a member of the Elizabethton Twins Baseball Committee. Jenkins was team scorer for seven years and covered most of the games for the STAR. It was a job he enjoyed.
He and his brother, Henry, also a sports writer, worked in the newspaper business most of their working careers. After the war, they started out working in the STAR circulation department. As time went on Bill made his way to the sports editor position and eventually moved on to the managing editor’s post.
During his newspaper career he interviewed some of the biggest names in sports, among them Pete Rose, George Steinbrenner, Johnny Bench, and Dale Murphy.
While his Sports Talk was a 10-year success, Bill left a lasting mark in the area of high school sports and built life-long relationships with many of the coaches in the area, among them Lynn Goddard, Ernest Cosson, John Pansock, Buck Vanhuss, and Charlie Bayless. Most preceded him in death.
Bill and his wife raised a son, Billy, and a daughter, Nancy. He was most proud of each one.
During his time at the STAR, he took many young reporters, me, being one of them, and taught them the tools of the trade. If he thought you were wrong, he would tell you exactly why in the most civil, respectful, and honest way.
Bill loved the newspaper business and he thought newspapers had a vital role in society. He was an old school journalist in the best sense of the word.
The newspaper world was much different when he and Lucy Ward, Joe Bowling, and Freddy Behrend were a part of it. When they left, so did the old manual Royal and Olympic typewriters. The newsroom changed. I miss that newsroom and Bill, Lucy, and Joe, and sometimes wish we could go back. But you can’t go back.
Bill Jenkins died last Friday at the age of 96. He was laid to rest Tuesday.
It was –30– (the end of the story) for a good newspaperman, great mentor, and a faithful friend.

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