Jumpers Say Goodbye To A Worldwide Legend
By Christy West
These days it often seems that everything is described in the extreme. Simply fun outings become “epic,” everyday good things are “amazing” or “awesome,” and everyday good people become “legends.” However, that which is truly epic, amazing or legendary clearly stands out as the genuine article. Thomas Jenkins was absolutely such a legend.
Jenkins’ life’s work was to coach and inspire skydivers worldwide, from brandnew graduates to world champions. Big-way skydiving was his forte, and he organized camps on nearly all the continents. Some were coaching events, while others were world records. At the time of his passing from Parkinson’s disease in December 2017, Jenkins had more than 22,000 skydives, held world records for the largest formation skydive (400-way), the largest two-point (219-way) and three-point (217-way) formation skydives (that are currently pending ratification) and had medaled at 18 USPA National Skydiving Championships. We’ll never know how many skydivers were inspired by Jenkins, but it must be in the thousands. On April 20, roughly 100 of those skydivers gathered at Skydive Spaceland– Houston in Rosharon, Texas, for a celebration of his life. Several members of his family and even his coworkers from the construction and woodworking industry joined them. Many people flew in from othermstates and even other countries for the, event, which Spaceland Event Director Scott Latinis hosted. Gwen Murillo provided food and drinks during the event, which streamed live on Facebook. Following a slideshow of memories, several people shared stories of Jenkins, including his sister, Suya, who shared her appreciation of the support she received from Jenkins’ sky family.
The following day, jumpers gathered for the ash dive that Latinis and Guy Wright organized. Unfortunately, multiple cloud layers seemed determined to keep the ash dive from happening. After several hours of waiting, Latinis and Wright decided to send the Twin Otter up to release part of the ashes on a low pass over the drop zone and then climb in search of a hole.
Spaceland Chief Pilot Rabbitt Staib brought the Otter in for the low pass and Billy Whitaker released a portion of the ashes in front of friends and family, who released balloons. Then the skies opened up just enough for the successful 22-way ash dive to get full altitude, with Latinis releasing the remainder of Jenkins’ ashes.
“Tom made it happen for us,” said Latinis with his characteristic grin.
“He didn’t want to make it too easy for us; he wanted us to work for it!” laughed Whitaker.
This was the only load that flew on that day, although the following day Latinis and Wright organized an 18-way “TJ” memorial dive that succeeded on the first attempt. On this day, jumpers at Skydive Arizona in Eloy, Skydive Perris in California and drop zones in Germany and Ireland did their own memorial dives, making this a worldwide celebration of a life well lived.
“Tom was an irreplaceable friend and leader here at Spaceland and around the world,” said Spaceland’s owner Steve Boyd. “He was a big part of building Spaceland into what it is today. The worldwide skydiving community will be forever grateful and greater for having known him.”
Christy West | D-21464