HONESDALE - Tom Jenkins took on every endeavor in life with a consummate professionalism and a gentlemanly manner, whether as a top-notch educator, committed community leader or distinguished athletic official, said friends and former co-workers.
The former Wayne Highlands School District superintendent, who gave 40 years to the district, died late Wednesday in Honesdale after a lengthy illness. He was 66.
“He was the finest gentleman I ever knew,” said James Clift, a fellow former educator at Wayne Highlands who began working with Jenkins in the 1970s.
“He was constantly concerned about others and never had a bad word for anyone. He was just the greatest guy.”
Like Clift, those who spoke about Jenkins described him as a man who was unselfish, thoughtful, caring, respectful and respected.
“He was one of the finest individuals I ever met in my life,” said Paul Edwards, a former district superintendent who worked with Jenkins for 34 years.
Jenkins started in the district in 1971, when he was in his early 20s, as a math teacher at Honesdale High School.
He steadily ascended the ranks.
Between the early '70s to the time of his retirement in 2011, Jenkins also served as middle school assistant principal, Damascus Elementary and high school principal, assistant district superintendent and superintendent.
“Tom was completely dedicated to his family, co-workers and students of the district,” Edwards said.
“No matter what the job, he gave everything his all and he was universally respected for his leadership, knowledge and for treating everyone with dignity and respect. … All I can say is that if you came in contact with Tom Jenkins, you were a better person for it.”
Edwards also noted Jenkins died the way he lived – with dignity and courage.
Jenkins' reach went far beyond the school district.
Ab Rutherford, who served with Jenkins on the Wayne Area Sports Hall of Fame, echoed the sentiments of many when he said, “Tom Jenkins was just a great guy. He had the respect of everyone he came in contact with.”
As a point guard on the Lake Ariel High School basketball team in the '60s, Jenkins played with the same principles he would later use to serve the school district and community.
“He was an excellent player and so unselfish,” said fellow alum and Lake Ariel resident Roger Bell. “He was very good at what he did.”
That excellence also extended to Jenkins' work with the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA).
Jenkins served as District Two's football chairman and is universally acknowledged as one of the best high school basketball officials.
“Tom refereed the state championship game,” said Dr. Robert Lombardi, executive director of the PIAA. “That's how much we thought of him as an official. He was an outstanding player in his day and he became an outstanding referee.”
Lombardi, a Lake Ariel native, also noted how Jenkins was his Little League baseball coach.
“As the years went by, we became great friends. When I was a young teacher and coach at Honesdale, Tom took me under his wing and taught me so much. I've never forgotten that.”
Lombardi added, “Tom was a great friend and mentor. He was just a class act … an absolute gentleman who knew how to relate to people.”
Jenkins was a mentor and friend to many, including the current Wayne Highlands superintendent, Greg Frigoletto, who described Jenkins as a leader who took on every task with “tremendous dignity.”
The two worked together for years, including during a transitional period when Jenkins was retiring as superintendent and handing down the reins to Frigoletto.
“I was so very fortunate to have worked with Tom Jenkins. I learned so much from him as an educator and as a person,” Frigoletto said, noting how Jenkins and other previous administrators set a standard of excellence within the district.
Frigoletto added, “This is a very, very sad day for the school community at Wayne Highlands.”
Honesdale Council Vice President Robert Jennings, who as a photographer worked with Jenkins for many years, said, “He touched a lot of lives. He was just a gentleman and a really good guy.”
The James Wilson Funeral Home in Lake Ariel is handling the funeral arrangements.
Sports Editor Kevin Edwards contributed to this report.