Former Lewiston and Auburn mayor and motivational speaker John Jenkins urges Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School students to be great in 2014. Sun Journal file photo

Politician, martial artist, community organizer, motivational speaker…

John Jenkins thanks the public attending the Auburn city council meeting on Monday as he presides as mayor for the last time. Sun Journal file photo

If you try to write down everything John Jenkins has done in his 68 years, you better have a lot of paper. 

Jenkins, former mayor of Lewiston and Auburn, has succumbed to illness and died, according to those close to him. 

Jenkins is a graduate of Bates College in Lewiston and on Wednesday night, word began to circulate among that community that Jenkins had died. 

“Whether John was talking to you one-on-one or as part of a crowd, he had a way of making you feel as if you were the most important person in the world at that moment,” said Rick Denison, who worked at Bates College for many years. “He and I were table mates once at a formal dinner. At the start, I was the only person there who knew him. By the end, everyone at that table felt as if John was a lifelong friend. That’s the effect he had on people.” 

“John was so full of light and love,” wrote Barbara Proko of Bath on a Facebook post. “His life enriched everyone he touched. John was my son Gabe’s sensei, and such a positive influence on his life. I’m grateful to have known him.” 

“He was an amazing man, working hard with me when I was summer camp director at the YWCA to work on inclusion of the Somali population,” said Chris Ivey, a special education teacher. “So sad.” 

Jenkins got into politics in Lewiston in 1993 after graduating from Bates College, winning mayoral election by a wide margin. By then, he was already known and respected in the community after opening a martial arts center in the city. Jenkins would win a second term as Lewiston’s mayor. 

Former mayor of both Lewiston and Auburn, John Jenkins, will be inducted into the USA International Black Belt Hall of Fame, Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

He later became the first African-American to win a state Senate seat in Maine’s history. 

A decade later, he won an election as Auburn’s mayor, the first person to serve as the leader of both cities.

“Mayor Jenkins holds the distinction of serving as mayor in both Lewiston and Auburn. He served with honor and was well liked by many,” Lewiston Mayor Mark Cayer said. “A true asset in many ways to our community. I’m sad to hear of his passing.” 

Jenkins made unsuccessful bids for the governor’s office in 2010 and 2017. He also ran for selectman in Owls Head while he was living there.

An energetic and positive speaker, Jenkins was invited to speak at numerous events, including school graduations across the area. 

“It was impossible to be around John without feeling better about yourself and the world,” wrote former Sun Journal sports writer Kalle Oakes. “Rest in power.” 

John Jenkins before a cross country meet in the 1970s. Joe Gromelski photo

“There aren’t many nicer people and better friends than John Jenkins,” said Joe Gromelski, also a Bates graduate.

Speaker John Jenkins speaks at the first Mt. Blue Campus Career Expo in Farmington on Tuesday.  Sun Journal file photo

Jenkins was also a member of the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame, as well as the Maine Sports Hall of Fame and the Maine State Sports Hall of Fame. He was a wellness and safety consultant for CBS, a personal trainer, an insurance agent and the operator of the website peptalk.com. 

After his political positions expired, Jenkins lectured and trained throughout the U.S., Japan and The People’s Republic of China, according to his website.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Jenkins also lists a pair of movie credits, having appeared in “Raising Ali: A Lewiston Story” and the controversial film, “The Letter.” 

“He was a wonderful, wonderful man,” said Allen Harvie, who knew Jenkins from Bates College. “Just a super person. He was always smiling and he just did so much.” 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.