LEWISTON — When John Jenkins was told that his cancer was aggressively spreading, he looked at his longtime partner, Ann Parker, with tears coming down his cheeks.

“He said, ‘But my story isn’t finished yet,'” Parker said this week.

Parker has thought about those words since Jenkins died in the fall of 2020, when the pandemic prevented her from organizing a memorial fit for the beloved former mayor of Lewiston and Auburn.

But finally, memorial events planned for June 10-11 will mark the continuation of his story, Parker said.

Ann Parker, seen Friday afternoon on the footbridge spanning the Androscoggin River between Lewiston and Auburn, holds a book that she spearheaded to honor her longtime partner, John Jenkins. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

A public memorial service and celebration of life for Jenkins will be held Saturday, June 11, at the Lewiston Armory. The day before, both cities will host an official dedication ceremony for the John T. Jenkins Memorial Footbridge, the popular footbridge connecting the Twin Cities. A new book written by a fellow Bates College alum also chronicles his life.

“His story doesn’t have to end,” Parker said about all the tributes coming together.


Jenkins, a New Jersey native, was a motivational speaker and martial arts expert who was elected to the state Senate representing Lewiston in 1996, the first African American to serve in the Senate. He also won elections for mayor of Auburn and Lewiston, including a write-in campaign for mayor in Auburn in 2007.

Parker said the last year and a half has been difficult not only because of her grieving but because she’s received so many calls, texts, emails, or questions from people on the street about Jenkins and a memorial.

“I’m pleased to be able to finally have the proper celebration that John deserves, and that the community deserves,” she said. “People just want to say goodbye and Godspeed to someone who meant so much to so many people.”

When Jenkins was diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2020, he kept it private.

He was still out and about in the community, and because he was “such a man of the public,” Parker said, he still wanted to be around people he knew without the focus being on himself.

Jenkins was so well-liked and known by so many people that he couldn’t walk into a restaurant for lunch without being there for hours talking to people, she said.


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

“People would always come up to him and tell him he taught them karate when they were a kid, or spoke at their high school graduation. These are people who are older now, and he just impacted that many people,” she said.

But his privacy around his health also made the news of his death a surprise to some.

“He and I both really felt he would beat this. You know, he was John Jenkins,” Parker said.

Jenkins died Sept. 30, 2020, at the age of 68.

He attended Bates College in Lewiston, graduating in 1974, and “fell in love with Maine,” according to his obituary.

Jenkins’ was well known for his martial arts skills, winning several world championships in multiple disciplines, and is in the Maine State Sports Hall of Fame, World Martial Arts Hall of Fame, and USA International Black Belt Hall of Fame.


For the last year and a half, a group of eight people have been working on projects aimed at keeping Jenkins’ legacy alive. The effort, which includes several of Jenkins’ former Bates College classmates, began with a scholarship fund and now includes a new book on Jenkins’ life.

A new book, titled “John Jenkins: The Mayor of Maine,” was written by Jenkins’ friend and Bates College classmate Chuck Radis. Proceeds from the book will go toward a scholarship fund in Jenkins’ name.

All proceeds from the book will go to the scholarship fund, a $50,000 fund that was recently matched by Bates College.

Parker said the book, written by Jenkins’ classmate Chuck Radis, features people who knew Jenkins through various chapters of his life, from his college days to karate to his public service.

She said after trying to plan something in 2021, she finally felt like this spring was the opportunity to host an event where the entire community could honor Jenkins.

Parker has had help from some longtime friends of Jenkins, including musicians Kathy Haley, Deb Morin, Greg Boardman and Denny Breau, all of whom will perform during the June 11 celebration.

Former Lewiston mayor and a friend of Jenkins, Paul Dionne, has also helped organize the June 11 memorial.


Last fall, the city councils in both cities voted unanimously to name the footbridge connecting Lewiston and Auburn after Jenkins “in honor of his commitment and passion for both cities.”

Leading up to the formal dedication at 5:30 p.m., each city will host activities on their side of the bridge. Auburn will host a karate and tai chi demonstration, and Lewiston will highlight Jenkins’ commitment to literacy.

According to Dottie Perham-Whittier, Lewiston’s community relations coordinator, signs will be installed on both sides of the bridge and the 5:30 p.m. ribbon-cutting will take place at the center of the bridge, with comments from Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline.

An aerial view May 14 of the footbridge between Lewiston and Auburn that will be dedicated to John Jenkins, former mayor of both cities. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

There will also be a musical performance and tribute by the Maine Cycling Club.

For the month of June, Auburn’s series of storyboards along the riverwalk will be dedicated to Jenkins.

“In preparing for the bridge renaming event, those involved from both cities have been enthusiastic about celebrating a gentleman who served both cities, the state, and in a multitude of other ways,” Perham-Whittier said. “John was a friend to all, a unifier, and a tremendous ambassador for his community. He could unite a room by his mere presence, and the symbolic meaning of the word bridge, that of a connector, reflects well on his character, integrity, and belief in the value of every human being.”

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