George L. Jenkins, ’63, and Gina Jenkins Impact Student Access and Honor a Mentor

George L. Jenkins, ’63, was raised in central Appalachia, a region that has faced unique adversity in the shift to a post-industrial era, including a lack of access to employment opportunities, education and social services. These challenges have fostered reported feelings of anger, frustration and hopelessness among many of the region’s residents. As a first-generation college student, Jenkins knows how impactful scholarships can be for students like himself. 

“I was born and reared in a coal mining region in Appalachia with humble economic beginnings,” Jenkins said. “My father was a coal miner and my mother worked in the home. Education was never discussed in our house, and no one encouraged me to obtain an education. Fortunately, I received athletic scholarships from Kent State which, along with numerous jobs, allowed me to pay my way through undergraduate school.”

Jenkins, valedictorian of his high school class, was a high school football and basketball standout. While athletic scholarships were the path that enabled him to leave the area and pursue higher education, the barriers to societal advancement in the region have worsened since Jenkins’ youth.

“It’s a very different story from what it was back when I was growing up. People had good jobs, and it was a relatively prosperous community, by working-class standards,” Jenkins said. “Now, all the steel mills and most of the mines are gone. The unemployment in my home county is around 20 percent, and the whole community has changed.” 

Jenkins feels it is important to continue to support students in these circumstances. As a result, in March 2022 he established a planned gift to Kent State to create the Gina and George Jenkins Student-Athlete Scholarship Fund. The scholarships give preference to those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly those from the Appalachian region. The calling to provide this level of support is of such importance to him that, in addition to this bequest, he will begin making annual gifts now thus creating his fund that will award scholarships during his lifetime and beyond. 

While a student at Kent State, Jenkins was selected as the outstanding junior man by the student body (known as the “Duke of Kent”) and the outstanding senior man by the faculty (receiving the Manchester Cup). He was also president of the National Men's Honorary, his social fraternity Alpha Tau Omega, the Interfraternity Council and Varsity “K.” He lettered three years in football and was captain his senior year, graduated magna cum laude and was inducted into Kent State’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2019.

Kent State not only helped Jenkins pursue higher education through athletic scholarships, it also provided him the support and confidence to expand his educational and career aspirations beyond anything he had previously imagined.

“I had never considered anything beyond an undergraduate degree,” Jenkins said. “But Dr. James Karge Olsen, who taught constitutional law and jurisprudence courses and was head of Kent State’s Honors program at the time, had a different plan: he encouraged me to attend law school. Being unsophisticated and unfamiliar with graduate programs or law school, I resisted his efforts, but Dr. Olsen persisted and eventually persuaded me to take the LSAT. My score on the test was so high that for the first time in my life I thought I might be bright, that I could have a future using my brain rather than just my brawn.”

Based on his test results and continuing support, Jenkins enrolled in the University of Michigan Law School after graduating from Kent State. He worked his way through law school as he had during his undergraduate years and not only earned his law degree - he earned it with distinction. Jenkins went on to have a very successful and distinguished career, and he learned from personal experience that anything is possible for every student, especially if support is there.

Throughout his career, Jenkins was involved in many professional, political and civic organizations, and his history of philanthropy began more than 30 years ago. His decades of generosity include the establishment of the George and Irene Jenkins Family Scholarship to assist outstanding students with a strong interest in public and civic affairs for graduates at his high school alma mater, Cadiz High School, and many other contributions that support students. Through it all, both his ties with Kent State and support for its students have remained strong, including serving on the Kent State University Board of Trustees and Kent State’s National Athletic Development Council.

Jenkins also greatly contributed to Kent State’s Student-Athlete Academic Resource Center, which began 30 to 40 years ago when Jenkins and John Farrell made the initial gifts for the center. Many others contributed over the years and in 2007 Judy Devine and Jenkins made the lead gifts for the expansion of the center, which was eventually renamed the Jenkins Student-Athlete Academic Center.

This center in particular aligns with his desire to support student-athletes by providing  access to tutoring, mentoring, learning specialists and academic counseling. The staff work one-on-one with student-athletes, offering  unparalleled support in their transition from high school to college and helping them to reach their full academic potential while at Kent State.

In March 2022, Jenkins tied his life-long appreciation of Dr. Olsen to this center, making an additional pledge to have the lobby of the Jenkins Student-Athlete Academic Center officially named The Dr. James Karge Olsen Lobby. That same month, Jenkins established the Jenkins-Olsen Athletics Academic Enhancement Fund, created to enhance the academic programming and services available at the Jenkins Center.

“I believe very firmly that a good education is the foundation for success and gives anyone the opportunity to achieve their dreams, limited only by their intelligence, work ethic and determination,” Jenkins said. “But I know how difficult it was for me to pay for my education. I hope the scholarships established by this bequest and my annual gifts will help young scholars with limited economic resources pursue their education and their dreams. This will benefit not only them but also the regions and communities in which they live and work across the country.”

There is an old Appalachian saying, “Don’t get above your raising.” It has different meanings to different people, but at its foundation it means that roots, family, communal identity and solidarity are more important than an individuals’ needs or success, and most importantly to not forget where - or who- you came from. While Jenkins’ aspirations evolved over the years, where and how he has chosen to make perpetual impacts through his generous philanthropy makes it obvious he has never forgotten.

Jenkins’ support will continue to help decades of first-generation students, students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds and Kent State student-athletes go on to make the world Forever Brighter.

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To learn how you can make an impact and leave a legacy while supporting something you believe in, please contact us at giftplan@kent.edu or 330-672-1000,  or visit www.kent.edu/legacy.

POSTED: Saturday, April 23, 2022 - 10:33am
UPDATED: Wednesday, June 1, 2022 - 3:18pm