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Jenkins left indelible legacy in St. C. sports

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Gentleman, successful, passionate and dedicated.

Those were just some of the adjectives that were used to describe John Jenkins.

Let me just confirm that all were 100 percent accurate.

Jenkins — the long-time St. Clairsville businessman, Red Devil athletic supporter and fan — died last week in Morgantown at the age of 79.

Whether it was the school, athletics or the community, Jenkins was always involved. He was involved with countless civic organizations and served on numerous boards during his lifetime.

So much so, that former OVAC Executive Secretary Tom Rataiczak, who got to know Jenkins through the awards his business handled for the conference, referred to him as “Mr. St. Clairsville.”

A perfect description for a man who — quite simply — had a passion for his community, its school and athletic program.

“He was a St. C. fan through and through,” Rataiczak continued. “John had the ultimate community business. You can’t think of Main Street in St. Clairsville without thinking about Jenkins Sporting Goods.”

Indeed.

Retired St. Clairsville Athletics Director Kelly Rine, who had known Jenkins since the mid 80s during his first tenure at St. C., always knew he had an ally and a man who would do everything in his power to help when needed.

“John was the same now as he was when I first met him,” Rine said.

As it pertains to St. Clairsville athletics, Jenkins’ name will forever live since the basketball court at the high school is named in his honor. On top of that, he was one of the key cogs in orchestrating the St. Clairsville Stadium Project.

With the school’s backing, Rine pursued the idea of naming the basketball court at St. Clairsville in Jenkins’ honor.

“That idea actually came from a parent, who was a Saints Club member, in the community,” Rine recalled. “It was brought to our attention, we discussed it and felt it was certainly worthy and decided to move forward.”

As anyone who knew Jenkins would expect, he was honored, but also somewhat reluctant.

“He was very grateful, but I don’t think he felt worthy,” Rine said. “We definitely felt he was. It was a unanimous decision.”

It didn’t matter if it was boys or girls basketball, football, baseball, softball or any other sport, Jenkins was there to support his alma mater and the student-athletes.

“He was a vibrant, visible supporter of the students and athletic programs at St. Clairsville,” Rine said. “He was always extremely positive and had a strong presence at events. He would do whatever he could for the youth of the school district.”

Because of his level of visibility, dedication to St. Clairsville youth and even his business sense, when the idea of remodeling Red Devil Stadium, Jenkins was one of the first people that Rine and other school officials thought of.

“Once the Belmont County Fair relocated and we realized we had an opportunity to do something special with that existing site and stadium, we knew John would be a key cog,” Rine said. ”

As it turned out, Jenkins and Randy Mellott — another long-time St. C. supporter and Saints Club member — led the project as co-chairmen.

“John was one of those guys who loved his school and wanted the best for the kids,” Mellott said. “And the best way to do that was putting in a facility that could be utilized by all sports.”

The $1M project, which included the installation of turf, an eight-lane track, new visitors grandstands and scoreboard, took off quickly. The project began in 2009 and the new-look stadium debuted for the fall of 2010 season.

“When we approached John, he was 100 percent behind it,” Mellott said. “It was a pleasure working along side of him on that. He was just a kind person, who loved St. Clairsville.”

Jenkins was more than just an alumnus of St. Clairsville. He was part of their athletic tradition. A multi-sport athlete, who earned nine letters, Jenkins was inducted to the St. Clairsville Athletic Hall of Fame. He was a starter on the 1957-58 undefeated squad.

While Jenkins is most associated with St. Clairsville for obvious reasons, he was a supporter and fan of athletes and teams from all over the Ohio Valley.

His business — Jenkins Sporting Goods in downtown St. Clairsville — was the long-time supplier of awards, including the championship pennants, for many years for the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference. He designed the current team trophy that goes to the OVAC champion.

Jenkins supplied the awards until three years ago when he informed Rataiczak that he was getting out of the awards portion of the business.

“John had the biggest heart that you could ever ask for in a business man,” Rataiczak said. “He was shrewd and had a good sense for business, but he was almost too kind.”

While Jenkins may no longer be here physically, his name and business lives on. He sold ‘Jenkins Sporting Goods’ in Sept. of 2018 to Bob Sabo and his son, Justin.

Bob actually worked with Jenkins when he first opened the business. He eventually left and entered the insurance field.

“John and I were friends for 50 or 60 years,” Sabo said.

When Bob and Justin sold their insurance agency, Jenkins, who had been thinking about retiring, gave his long-time friend a call.

“John got a hold of me and wanted to know if I was interested in buying the business,” Sabo said. “That’s where it materialized.”

Jenkins never had any stipulation when he sold the store that the name needed to remain the same, but because it was such an institution in town — and the Ohio Valley — the Sabos decided it would probably be in the best interest.

“For the good of the business and the good will (the name) created, we thought it would be a benefit to keep the name,” Sabo said.

Though Jenkins had retired, he remained visible, especially early on in the process, around the business. And Sabo had absolutely no issue with that.

“He really helped us with how to do things and opened some doors for us,” Sabo offered. “There were still people, for the first few months, coming in looking for him.”

With Jenkins’ name on the basketball court and his name remaining on the business, there’s no chance that his legacy will be forgotten in St. Clairsville.

Actually, there was no chance of that anway. Because, John Jenkins was Mr. St. Clairsville.

Staskey can be reached via email at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com or at twitter.com/TLSportsSeth

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