LEWISTON — A year after former Mayor John Jenkins succumbed to illness and died, leaders in Lewiston and Auburn are looking for a way to honor his memory.

John Jenkins Sun Journal file photo

They say they’d like to celebrate the legacy of Jenkins, the late Maine state senator and mayor of both municipalities, by renaming the pedestrian footbridge that connects the cities the John Jenkins Memorial Footbridge.

The two city councils will each consider and vote on the proposed footbridge dedication during meetings Sept. 7.

Jenkins, who passed away in September of 2020 following a short but valiant fight against cancer, was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey,” according to a news release from Auburn on Thursday night. “He fell in love with the area while attending Bates College and after graduating in 1974, he made Lewiston his home after traveling the world, competing in martial arts championships.

“Jenkins was an exceptional athlete, becoming a member of the Lewiston-Auburn Sports Hall of Fame, World Martial Arts Hall of Fame, Maine State Sports Hall of Fame, and USA International Black Belt Hall of Fame,” the release said. “He also worked with local police departments, providing self-defense and de-escalation training and as a Maine Criminal Justice Academy instructor.

“A mentor, community volunteer, personal trainer, martial arts instructor, motivational speaker, entrepreneur, and more, John Jenkins was a dedicated and enthusiastic member of the Auburn-Lewiston community,” according to the release, “serving as mayor of each city, winning once as a write-in candidate. He also served as state senator for Maine’s 21st District – the first African American ever to be elected to the Senate.”

“John was inspiring to so many in our community and beyond,” Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said. “Whether it was his motivational speeches to school kids or his advocacy as mayor and senator, his love for people and for community was evident to all. Naming this bridge after a man that connects and connected the two great cities he loved is not just fitting, it is appropriate.”

“As a teenager, I often heard about ‘this martial arts guy,’ Lewiston Mayor Mary Cayer said, “but over time, I realized he was much more. Senator Jenkins built many bridges during his public service to both Lewiston and Auburn, and it is fitting to honor his broad community service with a beautiful pedestrian bridge connecting our twin cities.”

By early Thursday night, the proposal was already getting thumbs-up on social media, with several people highlighting Jenkins’ many talents. By then, the idea was already fully supported by city leaders on both sides of the bridge.

“This would be a truly meaningful gesture on the part of both cities,” Auburn City Manager Phil
Crowell said. “John Jenkins epitomized community spirit and unity; he was a human bridge between our two cities. I can think of no better way to honor his memory.”

“Mayor and Senator Jenkins exhibited such enthusiasm in everything he tackled,” Lewiston’s interim city administrator,  Heather Hunter, said. “He had a way of including everyone in the room and made them feel as if they were a close friend. He had a grand personality and such an infectious smile and laugh – and the stories.”

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