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Tuesday, Apr 23, 2024
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Associate Provost and counselor: J. Barry Jenkins’s legacy at Mercer University

The Jesse Mercer statue near the historic quad gleams in the sun, with a small flower tucked into Jesse’s collar by a passing visitor.
The Jesse Mercer statue near the historic quad gleams in the sun, with a small flower tucked into Jesse’s collar by a passing visitor.

Barry Jenkins, PhD, spoke for the 2024 Founders Day convocation at Mercer University. As a new staff member in 1978, Jenkins recalls being captivated by Mercer’s “long and esteemed history,” but was struck by the absence of campus traditions. This realization launched a journey that would not only shape his own career, but also breathe new life into the university’s cherished traditions.

After seven years as a professional counselor, Jenkins became Mercer University's associate provost of the dean of student affairs, and despite initial skepticism from some of his faculty peers, Jenkins embraced this transition as a defining moment in his career.

Little did he know, that change would mark the beginning of the most rewarding chapter of his professional life — a 15-year tenure filled with moments of inspiration and growth in the Mercer community, and also marked, Jenkins said, by a statue.

During the late 1980s, leaders of the Student Government Association (SGA) made a dedicated effort to prioritize SGA involvement in campus activities. Over the course of three consecutive presidencies—held by Shawn Lanier (1987-88), Lynn Creech Murphy (1989-90), and Hugh Lawson III (1990-91)—a solid foundation was laid for SGA's future success.

As time went on, SGA members started to develop an increased interest in the founder, Jesse Mercer. However, there was no representation of Jesse Mercer on campus, aside from a huge portrait outside of the President’s office, and SGA leaders wanted something a little more present on campus.

However, the project that developed into the beloved bronze sculpture near the historic quad was not without roadblocks. It faced numerous challenges, from securing funding to selecting a sculptor. Estimated costs were between $50,000 to $75,000, and SGA did not have the funds, so SGA developed a process in which leftover funds from student organizations that were not sent back to the administration could be held for the sculpture project.

The next challenge was finding a sculptor. The organization searched until Donald Haugen and Tina Stern from Marietta, GA, reached out. After coming down for a campus visit, they sent a proposal along with a small, interactive model. That model is located in Tarver Library.

The senators liked the idea of an interactive statue, one that they could sit and talk to. So, they requested for Jesse’s head to be turned more towards the bench, and for the actual bench itself to be extended. This accommodation is the reason why all Mercerians can ‘talk’ with Jesse.

Jenkin's led SGA in other projects protecting Mercerian traditions as well; he played a pivotal role in restoring old campus relics, such as the historic bell housed in Willingham Hall’s tower and ensuring the safety of the ladders for future ‘tower tour’ visits in the Godsey Administration building.

But the statue he helped create is one of Mercer's most beloved and iconic landmarks, and it is a true and permanent figure in the memories of every Mercerian.

Karisha Khadayat

Karisha Khadayat is a student at Mercer University and a contributing writer for the Mercer Cluster

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