Final curtain call: the late Ellen Jenkins held many civic roles

Ellen Bush Jenkins played many roles for Barnwell County - librarian, historian, newspaper editor and community supporter.

For friends who remember her, the best roles Jenkins played were "friend" and being herself.

Jenkins died Dec. 29, 2008.

She was 76.

"She was always going out of her way to help people," said Marylen Jackson. "She was always jolly." Jackson served on the Barnwell County library board for 40 years.

Jenkins served as the head librarian for Barnwell public library, first from 1976 to 1980, then again from 1992 to 2005. She retired shortly before the library moved into its new facility on the Circle in downtown Barnwell.

"Ellen was real instrumental in getting the library campaign finished. She was devoted to the library. She stayed until that campaign was completed and then she retired," said Terri Smith of the fund-raising efforts for the new library facility.

Smith is a library board member and the lead agent for the Clemson University Extension Service in Barnwell County.

"She was a special person. She brought a lot of her love of life with her, especially for the children. She had a rapport with people - all people from all walks of life," she said.

It's a sentiment Mike Krokos echoes.

"She brought such a joy to living - she was not only committed to the newspaper but her community and her family as well," he said.

Krokos worked for The People-Sentinel from January 1987 to February 1994, first as a reporter, then working up to sports editor and editor.

Jenkins worked for The People-Sentinel from 1983 to 1988.

Jenkins first opened the door to Krokos' journalism career after he graduated Indiana University, he said.

"She was my first mentor. She gave me a chance straight out of college. I've got wonderful memories of Mrs. Jenkins or ‘Mrs. J'' as we all knew her," Krokos said. "She was a true Southern lady. There was such a genuine warmth about her."

Krokos is now the editor of The Criterion, the Catholic newspaper for the archdiocese of Indianapolis, Ind.

"She was probably the main reason I am who I am as a journalist because of her," he said. "She gave me a chance when no one else would. I will be forever indebted to that woman."

Krokos learned not only lessons about journalism from Jenkins, but life lessons as well, he said.

"I try to emulate her example of ‘family coming first,'" he said. "I know the entire of Barnwell County will miss her."

One single role Jenkins played made her well known locally.

Strangers entering Barnwell on S.C. 3 from Allendale won't understand the billboard that reads "1932-2008, Miss Daisy, R.I.P., ‘Hoke.'"

However, many Barnwell County residents will understand the reference to the theatrical play "Driving Miss Daisy" and the one role that made Jenkins well-known locally to those who didn't know her otherwise.

Charlie Neal, a Barnwell businessman, had the sign painted as tribute to Jenkins, his fellow actor.

Neal played Hoke Colburn, the African-American chauffeur for Jenkins' character, Daisy Werthan, a Southern, white Jewish woman who can no longer drive herself when the Circle Theatre did its version of Alfred Uhry's play in 1995.

The play depicts the respectful relationship the two dissimilar individuals develop over a period of time that includes the civil rights years.

The play became the 1989 movie with Morgan Freeman as Hoke and the late Jessica Tandy as Daisy. The movie won four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Tandy.

Because of the small cast, Neal interacted with Jenkins a lot on the play, he said.

"I had known her through working in the theater but it was the first time I had stage roles with her," Neal said.

"She was an easy person to work with because of her personality but she was a challenging person to work with too because of her perfectionist nature. We had a lot of rehearsals - she wanted it right," he said. "Greatness begats greatness - If you happen to work with a person of greatness, it brings out the best in you."

The Circle Theatre production of the play is one still talked about and gave Neal a lasting fringe benefit, he said.

"To this day, people treat us like we tore up Broadway," Neal said. "I got an automatic association with one of the finest folks in Barnwell County. That was the greatest."

Like Hoke and Daisy, circumstances threw Neal and Jenkins together where a mutual respect developed.

"It was a relationship of ‘un's'. It was unlikely, it was unsurpassed and it was unforgettable," Neal said. "We had a high respect for one another and that line never wavered."

Jenkins was the widow of the late William Green Jenkins and is survived by her children; William Green Jenkins Jr., St. Julien Bush Jenkins, Perry Manly Jenkins, Kimball Jenkins Davis, Ellen Dunbar Jenkins and 10 grandchildren.