Archie O. Jenkins: Enough and to Share

    “Archie O. Jenkins: Enough and to Share,” Ensign, Aug. 1991, 59

    Archie O. Jenkins:

    Enough and to Share

    Archie O. Jenkins was fifteen years old when George P. Canova, a fellow member of the Church in Florida, was murdered. A “committee of eight,” whose avowed goal was to rid the area of the Mormons, shot George in the back on his way home from church. The incident prompted Archie, several years later, to protect a set of elders who were being harassed near his home. He invited them to spend the night.

    Alvin C. Chase, a grandson of George P. Canova, recalls that “when some mobsters came looking for the missionaries, Archie proceeded to sit on the front porch of his home, all night, with a gun in his lap, protecting the missionaries as they slept.” These encounters with prejudice against Latter-day Saints prompted Archie to pray that his life could be used to eliminate bias against the church he loved.

    Life hadn’t been easy for Archie O. Jenkins. Born 24 February 1883 on a farm in the backwoods of northern Florida, he was reared by relatives of his mother. He worked long, hard days even as a little boy. Intelligent and ambitious, he found the drudgery of farm work exasperating. But with no money for education, the future looked dim.

    Archie had no idea that the Lord would someday use him not only to overcome prejudice against Latter-day Saints but also to bless countless lives through a large financial empire he would eventually accumulate.

    In the meantime, Archie met Josephine Ward, a new girl in Sunday School. They courted, fell in love, and had long, serious talks about the life they wanted to share together. But how? Archie received no income from his labor, only the necessities of life, making it financially impossible for him to raise and educate the children they wanted. His only recourse seemed to be to move to the city, where he might find a job.

    So Archie boarded a bus for Jacksonville, a growing metropolis only a short distance away. Frightened by his first separation from the people he knew and loved, Archie nevertheless succeeded in finding work with the city street department. With a broom in his hand, Archie worked as a sweeper in the dangerous areas of the city. A fairly large, muscular man, he adapted well to hard work and found it a novelty to be paid in cash rather than in board and room.

    On 20 November 1904, Archie and Josephine were married, and after a year their first child was born. Money was tight, but they had enough for the basic expenses of life—until one night when their baby needed medical help. He coughed, had a high fever, and breathed with difficulty. But the only money they had was tithing money they owed. For a moment, they reasoned that with the life of their baby at stake, they should spend that money. But after deciding against it, they knelt at the side of their baby’s crib and poured out their hearts to the Lord.

    When they arose from their prayer, Archie and Josephine cried in unison, “Let’s call in the elders of the priesthood!” The blessing given to the baby was beautiful. When the elders took their hands from his tiny head, his coughing ceased, his breathing returned to normal, and he fell into a restful sleep. As the branch president left the apartment, Archie handed him the envelope containing the tithing money.

    Early the next morning, while Archie was sweeping the street, he saw a glitter in front of his broom. He picked up a trinket, and while examining it under the streetlight, he was approached by a man who asked, “Do you want to sell that?” Suddenly, an idea flooded into Archie’s mind: the demand for inexpensive jewelry in that section of town could create a good business. When Archie received his next paycheck, he spent all the money he could spare to buy trinkets. After a short time, he became so successful at his new business that he resigned from the street department.

    Rapid success, which Archie always attributed to the payment of tithing, soon followed. Soon he had a jewelry store. He moved his store five times during the next ten years, each time into a larger building. Eventually, he handled only top-quality jewelry, watches, china, crystal, and silverware. He made a comprehensive study of the science of gemology and came to be considered one of the foremost authorities on diamonds in the state of Florida, later being elected as president of the jewelers’ organization there. By 1935, Archie O. Jenkins had jewelry stores operating in all the major cities in Florida.

    Archie gave jobs to a great number of people during the Depression years. He was generous to anyone in need, helping struggling families, leaving groceries at widows’ doors, and paying for funerals. “Archie had been poor himself, and so was a friend to those who were down on their luck,” said his friend Woodrow E. Copeland. “He always loved to home teach, asking to be assigned poor families so that he could see their needs. Shortly after Archie’s visits, the family would receive a new chair, or perhaps a table, or maybe clothing or groceries—whatever he perceived their needs to be.”

    Another friend, George H. Hill, remembers that “many students attended college with assistance from Brother Jenkins.” And in the financially difficult times of the ’30s and ’40s, said Brother Hill, “a trip to be married in the Salt Lake Temple was simply out of reach for most young couples. Many a trip out west was made possible with financial help from Brother Jenkins.”

    The fact that A. O., as Archie came to be known, and Josephine Jenkins were active Latter-day Saints became well known throughout the area. The Jenkins family contributed to the welfare of the city, donating generously to many charities, and were community leaders. Undoubtedly, their influence helped create a proper climate for the acceptance of the Church. Missionary work began to prosper.

    Archie’s influence among community leaders allowed the Church to accomplish tasks that otherwise would have been difficult, such as building new chapels in attractive neighborhoods. The prayer of the fifteen-year-old friend of the martyred George Canova was fulfilled: the Lord had indeed used Archie’s life to help reduce prejudice and allow members of the Church to live and worship in peace. In 1947, the Jacksonville Florida Stake was organized—the first stake in the southeastern United States.

    Over the years, Archie labored faithfully in many callings, first in the old Florida District, then as a high councilor in the newly formed stake—always bearing testimony of the law of tithing: “I know that I was directed to that shiny trinket, and that I was inspired of the Lord to do the things that caused the windows of heaven to be opened and pour out blessings upon Josephine and me.”

    Archie died in 1950. But through the years he has been remembered for his generosity and for his testimony of tithing.

    Archie and Josephine with their sons, Joseph J. (left) and Henry V., and their dog, Major, in front of the family home in Jacksonville, Florida.

    Photography by Phil Shurtleff.