In the Brooksville-centric eyes of City Council member Lara Bradburn, old-time banker Alfred McKethan really is a George Washington figure. He definitely would get a spot if the city had its own Mount Rushmore. So would Margaret "Weenie" Ghiotto, the founder of that once-great attraction, Rogers' Christmas House Village, and so, absolutely, would Paul Farmer, the Hernando High graduate who became a renowned doctor to the poor. And on Thursday night, Bradburn and the rest of the council presented the 2012 Great Brooksvillian award to a woman who might also be a candidate for the fourth and final place on the mountain: Julia Jinkens.
"We've had some pretty neat nominations for this award, but not every nominee has measured up to the word 'great,' and with Julia that's not even a question. Her place in history is secure," Bradburn said the day after Jinkens had been presented with a commemorative plaque, a Brooksville-themed embroidered blanket and a big bouquet that seemed to contain every rose in Hernando County.
It also seemed as though just about everyone in Brooksville showed up at City Hall for the ceremony. Every chair in the council chambers was filled. So was every space along the back wall. So, pretty much, was the entire outside hallway.
The lineup of people who spoke in tribute to Jinkens was a who's who of, if not greatness, at least prominence: Bradburn, banker Jim Kimbrough, Mayor Joe Johnston III and even two other Great Brooksvillian candidates, Jan Knowles and Beverly Lewis.
"We were nominated for this presentation, but we were rooting for Julia," Lewis said.
Kimbrough called Jinkens a catalyst for all kinds of good things that have happened in Brooksville and jokingly said he had a back door installed in his office at SunTrust Bank/Nature Coast because Jinkens showed up so often, seeking charitable donations.
Johnston said that the council members all jumped at the chance to introduce the motion to nominate her for the award, mostly because they couldn't believe it hadn't been done already.
"It was like, 'How stupid were we all these years?' " he said.
That's kind of what I thought when I nominated her last spring. (Sorry, I had to brag a little.) I figured that the city could grant this award to somebody who's still alive, somebody whose selection wouldn't cause any controversy.
There's been more of this than you might have expected since the first award went to McKethan a decade ago.
On one side are people such as Bradburn, who takes the city's history seriously and considers its former leaders to be legends. Their greatness hasn't been recognized, she says, and this award is the perfect way to do so.
On the other side are folks who think it should go to more ordinary do-gooders, folks who want to make this a "citizen of the year award," Bradburn said dismissively.
Jinkens has been more like the citizen of the last four or five decades.
If there was a group of kids or parents who had a chance to go out of town to do something special, she made sure there was a fundraiser to pay their way. She packed trucks full of ice for hurricane victims, built floats for parades, organized alcohol-free parties for teenagers, boosted sports teams by staffing the concession stand on countless nights, selling so many boxes of popcorn over the years that trying to imagine the number could make your head hurt.
She started doing all of this not long after she and her family arrived in Hernando County in 1965. And unlike most parents, as Kimbrough pointed out, Jinkens kept at it long after her two sons were no longer the ones being boosted. She kept at it long enough that she went from being known as Brooksville's "Mom" to its "Granny." She kept at it long enough that she could lobby for her own favorite Great Brooksvillian, Farmer, who won the award in 2008.
And, thankfully, she did it long enough that nobody had to strain their memories to talk about her accomplishments when she received the award herself. At 87, she might not organize fundraisers any more. But I'm sure, if asked, she would be willing to make a few calls for a good cause.
And, yes, she also hung around long enough to soak in some of the goodwill that she has spread over the years and that was sent back her way on Thursday night.
In other words, she was so good to so many people, for so long, that she became great — a great example of generosity in a city that could use a little more of it.
I don't know where, exactly, this Brooksville Rushmore might go, though it just crossed my mind that Chinsegut Hill is available.
I do know, like Bradburn, that "Ma" Jinkens deserves a place there as much as anybody.