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Reflections with Sammy Way: Jenkins Center: A gathering place for Sumter's kids

By SAMMY WAY
Posted 9/21/19

Reflections will discuss the impact of Parks and Recreation Department and the influence this program has had on the City of Sumter via the creation of several centers for the city's children. The report points out how the citizens have benefited …

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Reflections with Sammy Way: Jenkins Center: A gathering place for Sumter's kids

Posted

Reflections will discuss the impact of Parks and Recreation Department and the influence this program has had on the City of Sumter via the creation of several centers for the city's children. The report points out how the citizens have benefited from the generous donation of land by Thomas B. Jenkins for a city recreation center.

It is for him the "Jenkins Center" is named. According to Cassie Nicholes, "the recreational program in Sumter really began in the 1930s when the Works Progress Administration opened Jenkins Center, with Mrs. Ethel Disher and Mrs. Marie Phillips as workers. They taught nutrition, crafts and a preschool program. Later the program included activities for all ages." "Black children were provided a center in the U.S.O. building. Later Bernie Center was opened on South Purdy; Pearl Brinson was one of the workers there." The author made extensive use of The Sumter Item archives and the writings of Nicholes in preparing this piece.

In 1943, plans were made to construct a 30-by-50-foot concrete dance floor and a cement skating rink at the Jenkins Community Center on Oakland Avenue. It was decided that this addition would be completed according to City Manager J.A. Raffield. This new addition would be constructed outdoors, and lights would be installed so that the facility could be used at night. 1947 saw the addition of a wading pool at Jenkins Center, a gift of the Sumter Lions Club. This new facility answered a "long-felt need for the children of Jenkins Center as officials pointed out that 'nothing which has been done at the center in the past years had caused as much interest and excitement among the younger children as had the new wading pool.'"

Mrs. Betty Burrows noted that "large crowds have been using the pool each morning. Children of pre-school age have exclusive rights to the pool in the morning, and it is reserved for school-age children in the afternoons. The pool was constructed of concrete and was built in the shape of a square, so that it could be entered from all sides. The pool gradually slopes toward the center where the water is 18 inches deep, and the water near the sides is never over 7 inches deep. A special feature of the pool was the large sprinkler located in the center of the pool, which may be used with or without the pool full of water. Children may swim or shower or both swim and shower."

The 1956 Club Pageant at which Carolyn Morris and Julian Hynes were chosen "King and Queen Jenkins Center" for 1956 was held before a crowd of approximately 300 people. The 1959 pageant winners, Harry Brunson Jr. and Janis Yates, were crowned King and Queen Jenkins Center before a crowd estimated to be 500 people. These gatherings illustrated how important this first city center had become. However, by the 1980s, the building that once housed Jenkins Center was no longer in use and would become the site of the Jubilee-Samaritan House, previously located in a building on Council Street which was owned by Sumter School District 17. The facility closed when the school district decided to sell the building.

"The shelter, which was supported by several Sumter churches and individual donations, operated on a yearly budget of about $15,000. Prior to its closing, it housed an average of about five people a night. Council unanimously agreed to have its attorney prepare a one-year lease for the use of the building. The Jenkins Center was used as a neighborhood recreation center years ago, according to Assistant City Manager Talmadge Tobias." The City of Sumter has achieved an excellent record in providing recreational facilities for its citizens of all ages. It continues to expand the number of municipal supervised recreational activities to its citizens and endeavors to meet the athletic needs of its youth.