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Leo Warren Jenkins

May 28, 1913 - January 14, 1989


Leo Warren Jenkins was born on May 28, 1913, in Succasunna, New Jersey. He earned a B.S. in education from Rutgers University in 1935, a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1938, and a doctorate degree from New York University in 1941.1 He joined in the United States Marine Corps during World War II, serving at Guadalcanal, Guam, and Iwo Jima. For his actions on Iwo Jima, he was awarded the Bronze Star for valor and also received two Presidential Unit Citations.2 After the war, Jenkins taught in New Jersey public schools, at the Montclair Teachers College, and served as the Assistant to the Commissioner for Higher Education of the New Jersey State Department of Education.3

Leo Jenkins married Lillian Jacobsen in October of 1942, with whom he fathered six children.4 The couple moved to North Carolina in 1947 after Jenkins accepted a position as Dean of East Carolina College that year. In 1960, he succeeded John D. Messick, his mentor from Montclair Teachers College, becoming East Carolina’s sixth president. That year, United States’ presidential candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy, visited East Carolina College while touring North Carolina. Jenkins openly supported the democratic candidate. As president, Jenkins’ ambition was painstakingly obvious. Within five years, he proposed raising East Carolina to university status, which he achieved in 1967. During this time, he also spearheaded major improvements to intercollegiate athletics and the arts on campus. In 1972, President Jenkins became Chancellor Jenkins.5

Jenkins’ tenure at East Carolina is characterized by student enrollment and employed faculty numbers each climbing more than tenfold within thirty years, the addition of more than 150 academic programs, the increase of a $1.9 million budget to over $35 million, campus’ acreage climbing from 140 to 411, the addition of fifty-six buildings (including the A.J. Fletcher Music Center and high-rise dormitories), and the construction of Ficklen Stadium. He also fought for a School of Medicine, oversaw the expansion of Joyner Library, and the construction of a new art building which bears his name, the opening of the East Carolina Summer Theater, and the establishment of the School of Nursing at East Carolina.6

In 1977, the School of Art moved into the Leo Jenkins Fine Arts Center, which is located across from the Chancellor’s Residence, where the original Austin Building once stood.7 Jenkins retired in 1978 and was succeeded by Chancellor Thomas Bowman Brewer.8 In 1983, East Carolina University awarded its first honorary doctorate degree to Chancellor Emeritus Leo Jenkins. He passed away six years later and was survived by his six children and his second wife, Nancy Murray Jenkins.9