Obituary: Joseph Willcox Jenkins / Composer and music professor at Duquesne University

Feb. 15, 1928 - Jan. 31, 2014

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Joseph Willcox Jenkins, a well-known composer and professor in the Mary Pappert School of Music at Duquesne University, was beloved by his students, colleagues and fellow musicians.

But what his family found out in the final days of his life is that he was much loved by many in other walks of life as well, including the staff at Canterbury Place in Lawrenceville, where he died Friday of lung cancer. He was 85.

"The story of his death is the story of his life," said his son, Joseph of Wickford, R.I. "The number of visitors that came to see him was unbelievable. It wasn't just the people you'd expect. Some of the staff came to see him, the housekeepers and other staff, and some of them came every day."

Mr. Jenkins was a native of the Philadelphia area, who lived in Squirrel Hill and Shadyside after moving to Pittsburgh in 1961. He held a bachelor's degree in pre-law from St. Joseph University, bachelor's and master's degrees from the Eastman School of Music, where he studied under Howard Hanson, and a doctorate in music from Catholic University.

His musical career started with piano lessons at age 6, and by age 8 he was singing in his church choir.

The younger Mr. Jenkins said his father was in the Army during the Korean War era and served on the arranging staff of the Army Field Band and the Armed Forces Radio Network and as the chief arranger for the Army Chorus. In 2007, the Army Chorus presented "A Tribute to Joseph Willcox Jenkins."

After his military service, Mr. Jenkins was one of 12 young composers to be chosen for a grant from the Ford Foundation to spend a year as a composer in residence at a major high school. He spent his year in Evanston, Ill., then went to work as a music editor for Schmitt, Hall and McCreary in Minneapolis.

In 1961, Mr. Jenkins joined the music faculty at Duquesne University, where he taught theory, orchestration and composition and remained a full-time faculty member until about five years ago and a professor emeritus teaching courses through the fall of 2012, said Ann Labounsky, chair of organ and sacred music at Duquesne.

"Everyone loved him so much, and he made such a difference in our lives," Ms. Labounsky said.

He received the Omicron Delta Kappa Teacher of the Year Award in 2000.

His son said that numerous former students came to visit Mr. Jenkins during his last days, including one who spent several hours playing his guitar for his former professor.

In addition to teaching, Mr. Jenkins was a noted composer of more than 200 works for band, orchestra, chorus, voice and instrumental ensembles. "He was always thinking of some kind of canon or 12-tone row that he could make," Ms. Labounsky said.

About a year ago, before he was diagnosed with his illness, Mr. Jenkins' colleagues at Duquesne held a gala for him. "People from all over the country came to pay their respects to him," Ms. Labounsky said.

In addition to his work at Duquesne, Mr. Jenkins served as organist and choir director at various local churches, including St. Bernard Catholic Church in Mt. Lebanon, the Presbyterian Church of Sewickley and Rodef Shalom Temple in Shadyside.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Margaret; another son, Thomas of Newportville, Bucks County; and three grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Canterbury Place, 310 Fisk St., Lawrenceville. A reception will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Duquesne University Student Union Ballroom, followed by the funeral Mass at 2:30 p.m. in the Duquesne University Chapel.

 

Correction, posted on Feb. 3, 2014: An earlier version of this obituary contained incorrect information on the date of the services for Mr. Jenkins.


Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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