ECU’s Leo Jenkins helped blaze trail
One has to wonder what Leo Jenkins would have made of Saturday’s ceremony and how East Carolina University has grown.
Jenkins died in 1989, but his legacy still shapes eastern North Carolina. On Saturday he and five others were honored during a halftime ceremony before 41,000 fans at an ECU football game.
The ECU that stands today isn’t the same institution that Jenkins came to in 1947. The name isn’t even the same. It was East Carolina Teacher’s College back then.
By the time Jenkins retired, enrollment had grown from 1,605 to more than 12,000. Today it stands at 24,000. The number of academic programs increased from 24 to 174 during his time there, and the medical school was established.
Jenkins didn’t do it alone, and the others who were honored Saturday helped shaped the university in their own way.
Jim Chesnutt was one of them. He graduated from ECU in 1963 and began his career in banking. For the past 10 years he has been president and chief executive officer of National Spinning Co. and he has remained a strong supporter of the university.
And there is Ron Clark, who graduated more than 30 years after Chesnutt. His path took a different turn. Clark has been called “America’s educator” for his passion for education. He began his teaching career in Aurora and today runs his own center in Atlanta that reaches out to children in need. Some of those children were on hand for Saturday’s award ceremony.
Both Clark and Chesnutt have strong Beaufort County ties, and we should take pride in their accomplishments.
Also honored were Dan Kinlaw who graduated from ECU in 1965 with a degree in education. Kinlaw has been a member of the East Carolina University Board of Trustees since 1997.
Then there was Shirley Carraway. She is a four-time ECU graduate, in 1975, 1985, 1992 and 2000. Carraway served both Lenoir and Pitt County schools in a number of capacities, including assistant superintendent and associate superintendent for educational programs, and is currently superintendent of Orange County Schools.
Also honored was Rev. Hubert E. Walters. Walters, a native of Greenville, was among the first African-Americans to obtain a degree from East Carolina and the first from the School of Music. He is a charter member of the Black Studies Department at Harvard University.
But we have to wonder how much all of the honorees owe to Jenkins and those who came before.
In an editorial, the late Ashley B. Futrell, a former chairman of the ECU trustees and editor/publisher-emeritus of the Washington Daily News wrote: “Leo Jenkins was the educational, cultural, economic, political, and religious conscience of eastern North Carolina.
Futrell himself was one of those who can be said left this world a better place than he found it. In 1997 Futrell won the same award that Jenkins won on Saturday, the honorary alumni award. It is fitting that Jenkins was honored last weekend.