When I picked up a nomination form for the annual Great Brooksvillian award, the folks at Brooksville City Hall were nice enough to tell me that I didn't have to confine myself to the cramped little space provided to "describe the nominee's overall contribution to the community."
I was recommending Julia "Mom" Jinkens, and I had a lot to say.
I had to get across the idea that although her resources aren't great — she has raised a lot more money than she has donated — her spirit always has been.
I had to mention that her focus has always been right where it's needed the most — on kids.
I needed room to quote folks who have known her a lot longer and better than I have, people like Brooksville City Council member Lara Bradburn.
She called Jinkens, who moved here with her late husband, Joe, and three children in 1965, "the greatest cheerleader for our youth in county history."
Jinkens did it on the job, working for 15 years providing after-school care at Hernando Christian Academy and for more than 40 years in the cafeterias of the county's public schools, mostly at Brooksville Elementary.
Once, she was the food service manager, she said. Over the past few years, before retiring in April, she cleaned up after children, helped the littlest ones open milk cartons and ketchup packets, bought them trinkets from the Dollar Store to reward good behavior and offered so much care and encouragement that everyone at the school called her "Granny."
"I know a lot of my kids don't have those extended family connections anymore, and she became my students' grandmother," said Brooksville Elementary principal Mary LeDoux. "I have never met anybody who was as happy and upbeat as Granny. That's huge for kids, to always have that positive interaction."
Even freed from the constraints of the nomination form, I couldn't begin to list all of Jinkens' volunteer work. There's just been way too much of it. So here's a representative sample:
Way back in 1976, she helped raise money so the Hernando High band could march in a Bicentennial parade in Washington, D.C.
In 1987, when Jerome Brown's University of Miami team went to play in the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona for the national championship, she rounded up contributions so his parents could be there.
She once again took on the role of "town beggar," as she likes to say, raising money so a local basketball team could play in a 1991 tournament in Ireland. In 1995, she helped put together a welcome home celebration for Army helicopter pilot and Hernando High grad Bobby W. Hall II, whose crash in North Korea had made international news.
In 2000, former Hernando High sprinter John Capel qualified for the Sydney Olympics, and Jinkens organized a fundraiser to send his parents halfway around the world to watch.
"She took that challenge by the horns and succeeded immensely," said Jim Kimbrough, chairman and chief executive officer of SunTrust Bank/Nature Coast. "Nobody that I'm aware of has worked their fingers to the bone more often in support of Brooksville than Julia Jinkens."
Maybe you've noticed that a few years have passed since Jinkens was right in the center of things and that, for example, she has supported recent events such as the Florida Blueberry Festival mostly in spirit.
That because she's 87 and, suffering from chronically low sodium levels, not feeling as energetic as she once did.
That's what forced her to finally stop working at the schools. She's also downsizing, moving with her youngest son, Tim, from a house in the neighborhood next to Hernando High to a mobile home at Clover Leaf Farms, all the way across U.S. 41.
"You know I couldn't be too far from the purple and gold," she said, referring to the high school's colors.
I didn't mention any of this in the lengthy letter accompanying her nomination form out of fear Jinkens would think I was going for the sympathy vote. Not true. I just think it's nice to give out these awards while people are healthy enough to appreciate them.
I also didn't mention, because bringing up politically touchy subjects is never helpful in such cases, that when deciding whom to help and what cause to get behind, race never seemed to matter to Jinkens, who is white.
There's a famous picture of Brown, who is, of course, black, wearing a bright yellow, spinnaker-sized T-shirt printed with the question: "Have you seen my other mother, Julia?"
One reason I'm convinced the two families' much-touted bond was genuine: Brushing shoulders with famous folks and getting a lot of credit didn't seem to matter much to Jinkens.
She didn't exactly bask in the limelight working the concession stand at Hernando High football games for 40 years or so, or holding "sober celebrations" for Hernando High graduates for 30 years, or working with the city and others to have an alcohol-free Tangerine Drop New Year's Eve party at Jerome Brown Community Center, or, of course, getting behind the effort to build the center in the first place.
And there was the completely anonymous help she gave Bradburn more than a decade ago, long before Bradburn was a member of the City Council.
Members of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, they both had agreed to help construct the church's float for Brooksville's annual Christmas parade. A lot of other people had agreed to help, too, Bradburn said. But only she and Jinkens showed up.
They worked through the frigid night, creating a religious scene out of chicken wire and tufts of Kleenex.
As Jinkens remembers it, "I looked at Lara at 4 in the morning and said, 'What are we doing here?' "
Just helping out, obviously.