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JENKINS, VERLIN ELMER [LEW]

Verlin Elmer Jenkins [Lew] (1916–1981).
Texas boxer Lew Jenkins won the Lightweight Title in a bout versus Lou Ambers at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1940. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

JENKINS, VERLIN ELMER [LEW] (1916–1981). Lew Jenkins, professional boxer and army sergeant, was born Verlin Elmer Jenkins in Milburn, McCulloch County, Texas, on December 4, 1916. He was the son of Artie James Jenkins and Minnie Lee (White) Jenkins. While he was still a child, his parents moved to Sweetwater, Texas, where he worked in the fields picking cotton to help his family make a living. According to his record in the 1940 census, Jenkins only attended school through the seventh grade. It was from his hometown that he drew one of his many boxing monikers “The Sweet Swatter from Sweetwater.”

At age sixteen and following the death of his father, Jenkins joined a traveling carnival and took on all challengers as a carnival boxer in order to bring in money to support his family. This stint in the carnival was one of his first forays into the ring. In 1936 when he was nineteen, Jenkins joined the U.S. Army and was placed in the Eighth Calvary Division at Fort Bliss, where he worked as a blacksmith. Though he had a small-framed wiry build, he was known for his extremely powerful punches, and he won the welterweight championship of Fort Bliss. 

During a furlough from the army, Jenkins went to Dallas, Texas, for his first professional match. After the bout against Kid Leyva, which Jenkins won, he met Dallas sports promoter Fred Browning. Excited by the talent he saw in Jenkins, Browning purchased the fighter’s discharge from the military and became his manager. Reportedly, Browning dubbed Jenkins with the nickname of “Lew.” Jenkins fought a number of matches at the famed Sportatorium. At around the same time that Jenkins met Browning, he met a feisty midget car racer—Katie Lucile Jenkins (same last name but no relation)—the woman who would become his wife. They married in May 1938. Soon after their marriage, Katie became involved in managing his boxing career, which consisted largely of fighting as often as possible to meet living expenses. They traveled to matches in Mexico, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. 

From 1939 to 1940 Jenkins’s career ramped up to its highest point. He won fourteen fights in a row, including his first-round knockout of Tippy Larkin at Madison Square Garden in New York City, which earned him a shot at the title. The Lightweight Title fight against Lou Ambers was a short one, with Jenkins scoring a third-round knockout. Jenkins won his title on May 10, 1940, and held it for over a year despite losing a handful of non-title fights. 

He lost his title in a bout against Sammy Angott on December 19, 1941. His many defeats during this time can be chalked up to heavy drinking and partying. His misadventures included a bad motorcycle wreck on the eve of a bout. He and Katie divorced in 1942. Jenkins married Lupie Marie Galarza in Reno, Nevada, on January 10, 1947. They had one son, Lew. Jenkins continued fighting until his retirement from boxing in 1950. He fought his last bout on April 14, 1950. Sources differ regarding his professional fighting record and range from a total of 109 to 119 fights—at least 47 wins by knockout, 18 by decision, as well as 5 draws. Jenkins lost by technical knockout some 12 times, and lost approximately 27 fights that went to the judges’ scorecards. 

Lew Jenkins was a great boxer, but his more important achievements came on the battlefield. In 1942 he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard. His unit was responsible for putting troops ashore at Sicily, Salerno, Burma, and at Normandy on D-Day. He later commented on his frustrations at watching men die upon entering combat but not being able to join the fight himself. Following his retirement from professional boxing, Jenkins re-enlisted in the army and served in the Second Infantry Division during the Korean War, during which he was awarded a Silver Star. He achieved the rank of first sergeant. 

In later life, Jenkins worked as a groundskeeper for golf courses in Honolulu, Hawaii. Lew Jenkins died on October 30, 1981, at Oakland Naval Regional Medical Center in California. For his service to America he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1999 he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and in 2003 The Ring magazine named him one of the “100 Greatest Punchers.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

BoxRec: Lew Jenkins (http://boxrec.com/boxer/9466), accessed May 20, 2017. Dallas Morning News, March 12, 1956. Houston Chronicle, October 6, 2013. New York Times, November 1, 4, 1981. James B. Roberts and Alexander G. Skutt, The Boxing Register: International Boxing Hall of Fame Official Record Book (Ithaca, New York: McBooks Press, 2006).

Jason Franklin

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Handbook of Texas Online, Jason Franklin, "Jenkins, Verlin Elmer [Lew] ," accessed December 16, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fjenk.

Uploaded on May 23, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.