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Brooksville mourns death of Red Mule Pub owner Les Jinkens

BROOKSVILLE — Steve Smith, manager of the Brooksville Walmart, was one of a steady stream of customers who stopped by the Red Mule Pub on Monday morning to console Julia Jinkens on the death of her son, Les.

"People have been so nice," said Jinkens, hugging Smith. "I didn't know he was that important. By golly, he must have done something right."

The important thing that Les Jinkens did right, or at least the thing that caused the widespread mourning after his sudden death of an apparent heart attack on Saturday at age 67, was open the Red Mule.

Jinkens quit a promising banking career 36 years ago to create a pub that, unlike many of the chain restaurants that have opened since, was clearly stamped with his personality and that of his town's.

"It's part of what Brooksville was and what Brooksville is," said Blair Hensley, who owns a restaurant in town.

Jinkens' brother and business partner, Tim, put up the faded, felt banners of his favorite sports teams and the many photos of Hernando County's star athletes.

Just about everything else belonged to Les Jinkens.

"If it's sports, it's Timmy," Julia Jinkens said. "If it's nostalgia, it's Les."

That includes the leather mule harnesses attached to the walls and the old plows hanging from the ceiling.

Les Jinkens' childhood hero was Hopalong Cassidy, which explains the publicity stills of the actor who played him, William Boyd, and of Gabby Hayes, who played Cassidy's sidekick.

Perched above the new big-screen television is a much older and slightly larger Harley-Davidson sign. And even that is dwarfed and pre-dated by a black-and-white poster of two Weeki Wachee Springs' mermaids from around the time of the attraction's opening, in 1947.

Les Jinkens gave the place its sound as well as its look. His favorite performers, Jimmy Buffett, Bob Seger and the Marshall Tucker Band, were played not just in a regular rotation but "in and endless loop," Tim Jinkens joked on Monday.

"If you liked them when you started working here, you probably wouldn't by the time you left."

Julia Jinkens is the member of the family best known for community service; it's why she was named the city's Great Brooksvillian in 2012. But Les Jinkens was involved, too, said Brooksville business owner, Tricia Bechtelheimer.

He was always willing to make the pub available for fundraisers, she said. The Red Mule Runners, a club founded about the time the pub opened, still holds its meetings there. And for several years in the 1980s, Bechtelheimer said, the pub hosted a regular Thursday gathering of representatives of service clubs and businesses.

"A lot of brainstorming was done over beers; a lot of community problems were solved at that back table," she said.

That table was Les' favorite spot — where he "did his bossing," his mother said, and entertained customers such as Smith, who were also friends.

Of course, he won't be there when the pub hosts an unofficial memorial immediately after the official one, which is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday at Merritt Funeral Home's Brooksville chapel.

But it's comforting to think that he put so much of himself into the pub, his mother said, and that the pub is still going strong.

"We're not going anywhere," she said.

Dan DeWitt, can be reached at (352) 754-6116, or dewitt@tampabay.com.

Brooksville mourns death of Red Mule Pub owner Les Jinkens 06/09/14 [Last modified: Monday, June 9, 2014 9:51pm]

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