An ordinary man with an extraordinary heart

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For a little over six years, I was a full member of a motorcycle club, the Iron Order MC. My road name was Ka-Bar, to reflect my time in the Marine Corps. Thad Jenkins was also a member. His road name was Hulk because … well, because Thad was very big and really strong.

One night following a meeting at the clubhouse, several of us were standing on the sidewalk across from the building. It was dark by then and I needed to get something out of my saddlebag, so I walked to the bike. I had forgotten about the elevated manhole cover in the sidewalk and, in the dark, tripped over it and crashed to the ground, somehow twisting, and landing on my back.

Immediately I heard running footsteps and heard Thad cry out, “Are you okay!?” Before I could reply, Thad hit the same manhole cover and he was launched into space. In the dark, I saw the stars blotted out as his body hurtled toward mine. I thought, “This is gonna hurt.” I am no small guy, but Thad outweighed me, at the time, by at least fifty pounds. He landed right on top of me, and I was right. It did hurt.

Nose to nose in the dark, Thad said, “Are you hurt?” I said, “Well, I wasn’t, but now …” He laughed, got off me, and helped me up as the others rushed to make sure we were both okay. We were, but I teased Thad about my cushioning his fall for years. But the act was typical Thad. He was often rushing to help someone if he saw a need.

Last Thursday evening, Thad was riding his beloved motorcycle when, according to initial reports, a tractor trailer rig made an illegal turn in front of him. Thad slammed into the truck and was killed. Thad was 47. He was married less than two years to Dallas Kee.

Thad is survived by his parents Thomas and Elaine Jenkins; Dallas Jenkins, his wife and the love of his life; daughter: Katherine (Haven) Shoemaker and baby Lincoln due in April, son: Brad (Cassidy) Jenkins; daughter: Eva Marsteller; granddaughter: Sage Jenkins; sister Tammy (Mark) Deal; nephews Ryan (Shanna) Deal and Casey Deal; and Demetrius Valentine, whom he cared for as his own son.

Just a very few years ago, Thad was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment. He lost over 100 pounds as a result of the treatment and was looking for many more years to spend with his friends and family. Not long ago, I told him that now would be the time if he was going to fall on me again. Again, he laughed. Thad laughed a lot.

In the motorcycle community, there is a great deal of talk about “brotherhood.” For some, that is all it is — talk. But many others, Thad included, took that term seriously. Once, after a motorcycle club event, my phone rang after midnight. It was Thad. There was one member of the club he was concerned about because he thought the friend had had too much to drink. He rode past the man’s home and his bike was not there.

He tried calling him on the cell phone but there was no answer. By now, there was a terrific rainstorm and Thad and I got in cars and began to drive the possible routes from the clubhouse to the club member’s home. It was an impossible task to determine whether a bike had gone off the road in the storm. It was dark, the rain was coming down in sheets, and all the routes had significant woods which could hide a downed biker. Finally, about 2:00 a.m., Thad called me. The biker had been located and was safe. He had gotten lost in the dark and was sheltering under an overhang, waiting out the storm.

It was said of Thad that he would “give you the shirt off his back,” if you needed it. It wasn’t just a saying. On one occasion, Thad encountered a homeless man who was barefoot. After some conversation, Thad untied his own shoes and gave them to the man. The man tried to refuse but Thad told him he had other shoes at home. His reasoning? The homeless man needed those shoes more than he did.

In his encounters with people, Thad treated a person as a friend unless, and until, the person demonstrated something different. He was easy-going but, if he felt his friends were threatened, he was more than willing to fight on their behalf. It almost never came to that, though. He was, after all, the “Hulk.” Thad could be intimidating when he wasn’t smiling.

Thad was a part of my family for around twenty years. He first met my oldest son, Jason, when his son and Thad’s son, entered the Cub Scouts. Over the years, that friendship with almost all of my family members has grown, expanded, and deepened.

A few years ago, Thad trained at the Motorcycle Maintenance Institute (MMI) in Orlando, FL. He worked as a motorcycle mechanic for, first, Great South Harley-Davidson and then for Big Foot Cycles, where he was employed at the time of his accident. Always the biker, he was looking forward to beginning his new membership with the Los Carnales / La Familia Motorcycle Club.

Thad, Dallas, and Eva have been part of our church family at Christ the King as well. It was at Christ the King they were married and at Christ the King where the funeral was held last Sunday afternoon. It was, literally, standing room only for the funeral of Thad Jenkins. Every seat was taken. That does not include the 80 or 90 that gathered in the overflow at the Parish Life Center to watch the funeral on Livestream. It also doesn’t include the 40 or so who stood in the foyer or the many bikers and others who waited outside because there was no room. As of yesterday, there were an additional 225 people who watched the service at home on Livestream.

After the service, a memorial ride of about 75 motorcycles left the church for a ride to The Great Southern Pub in Hogansville (that opened on Sunday just for this occasion) where a crowd gathered to remember and toast Thad and his life.

The service at the church was, by far, the most people ever to attend a service at Christ the King. The previous largest attended service was in 2014 for a beloved bishop who had passed away after a lengthy illness. People, including many other bishops and clergy, came from across the country for that service.

Yet, there were people from all walks of life for Thad and his family. Usually, crowds such as this are seen for community leaders, political figures, or influential and powerful people in the community. But here was a huge crowd for a man who fixed and repaired motorcycles. Who could know that a motorcycle mechanic could have such an impact on so many lives? But Thad did. He was a true brother to those who knew him.

Father Jason Epps, my son, a priest, and a fellow biker preached and led the service. The picture that emerged was about an authentic man. A biker with a big and compassionate personality. A Christian who did not try to pretend he was perfect or flawless. Thad was not a fake. What you saw was what you got. The sermon, which caused laughter, as well as tears, told a touching story and brought a powerful message about a seemingly ordinary man with an extraordinary heart. Some men talk about “brotherhood.” Thad Jenkins exemplified it.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]

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