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Ceremony honors drive of Best, Jenkins

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Jack Jenkins, son of Dr. Leo W. Jenkins, spoke at the 10th Street Connector Bridge dedication. The highway was named in honor of his father.

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Memories of how Leo W. Jenkins and Dr. Andrew A. Best reshaped Greenville and eastern North Carolina were highlighted during a Monday ceremony dedicating the 10th Street Connector and its bridge in the men’s names.

Family members of Jenkins and Best were joined by representatives of the City of Greenville, East Carolina University, North Carolina Department of Transportation and the community for the ceremony.

The 10th Street Connector project, which started September 2015, created a 1.4-mile direct path from the medical district to downtown Greenville and East Carolina University.

“With a project this impactful it is certainly appropriate that it would take the names of two men who have had a significant impact on our cities, Dr. Leo Jenkins and Dr. Andrew Best,” Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly said.

The section of road between Memorial Drive and Evans Street was dedicated in honor of Jenkins, the ECU chancellor who oversaw the school’s conversion to a university and the creation of the university’s medical school.

The bridge that crosses Dickinson Avenue was dedicated in honor of Best, who provided medical care to eastern North Carolina for 50 years, served as the first African-American on ECU’s Board of Trustees and also played a key role is securing the medical school.

The growth Greenville has experienced in connection to its burgeoning medical district and the university has brought more traffic to the city’s roads, said Preston Hunter, division engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation.

“Having the right infrastructure in place is a critical component to make sure this growth continues,” Hunter said. “Transportation is about much more than just moving people and goods. It’s about creating greater connections. Providing people with better access to educational opportunities, to health care, to good-paying jobs and a better overall quality of life.”

Work on the $30 million project started in September 2015, after years of planning and property acquisition. According to state transportation officials, the project was delayed in the early 2000s until the city, ECU and Vidant Medical Center collectively spent $6 million to fund the its design and right-of-way acquisition. The roadway cut a path through a residential and commercial area of west Greenville, taking more than 100 properties.

Jenkins’ son, retired Judge Jack Jenkins, spoke at Monday’s ceremony along with the Rev. William H. Best, Andrew Best’s nephew.

Jenkins was one of the six children who was raised in the Dail House, the former chancellor’s residence.

He said that the first time his mother, Lillian, saw Greenville she urged her husband to give up his faculty job and return to their previous home.

“He said 'No, this is home now and if we don’t like we need to make it better,'” Jenkins said.

"That is the legacy of Leo Warren Jenkins — he made his home better.”

Jenkins said he father often talked about “the maximum citizen,” a person dedicated to making his or her home a better place in which to live, work and grow.

The maximum citizen “helps others that cannot help themselves, choses honesty over deceit, even when self defeating, encourages rather than discourages, repairs what is broken and builds anew what is lacking,” he said. Leo Jenkins was “the quintessential maximum citizen.”

“He saw great needs and worked with others, like Andrew Best, to make improvements,” Jenkins said.

He was joined at Monday’s ceremony by his brother, Jeff Jenkins, sisters Suzanne Jenkins Lodge, Patty Jenkins Hogan and Dr. Sally Jenkins. Their older brother, Jimmy Jenkins, was unable to attend.

Best’s nephew, a minister at Saint Mark AME Zion Church in Creswell, read the second verse of James Weldon Johnson’s “Life Every Voice and Sing” which speaks of the hardship and persecution African Americans experienced throughout the nation’s history, ending with the line, “out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last/where the white gleam of our star is cast.”

“Having a bridge named after him reminds me of the saying that great leaders don’t set out to be leaders,” Best said. “A bridge signifies a place of crossing from one side to the other side.”

Best then shared the story of his uncle’s reaction to the letter notifying him that the medical school would be built.

“I remember that morning and anyone who knew Dr. Best knew he was a very emotional person,” he said.

“That morning Doc shouted from where he was having breakfast and said ‘Billy, we finally got the school. We finally got the school,” Best said. “I tell you, he paraded around there in his PJs that morning, enjoying the significant contribution that God blessed us to have.

“We are so happy, so thrilled that on one side of the bridge lies the ECU campus and on the other side of the bridge rests west Greenville where Doc lived for over 50 years.”

The signs designating the names of the road and bridge were erected on Monday morning.

The road and bridge names are honorary, and won’t be used in street addressing.

The Greenville Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing at today’s 6 p.m. meeting on a proposal to rename the section of highway between Memorial Boulevard and Dickinson Avenue, currently called Farmville Boulevard, to West 10th Street.

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