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Energized and Occupied

A life journey like no other has gratified Gareth Jenkins ’66

As a kid, Gareth Jenkins ’66 wanted to be a mathematical cosmologist.

The direction his career took instead may not be as mysterious as the origin of the universe, but Jenkins remains a little bit puzzled by it.

“I feel it could have turned out in a somewhat more orderly way,” he says.

Even Jenkins’s path to Swarthmore was circuitous. After high school, he spent an “ignominious semester” at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. When he withdrew in 1958, his “carefully constructed life plan suddenly blew up.”

Jenkins enlisted in the Army. He earned a spot in the intelligence service, trained in Russian, and spent two years on the Aleutian Islands in Alaska listening in on Soviet airwaves.    

After his service, his parents—who lived in Swarthmore—suggested Jenkins inquire with the admissions dean. At Swarthmore, he studied history, economics, and philosophy.

Next, Jenkins earned a master’s in history at Harvard, where he met his second wife. They moved to her native Italy, where he apprenticed with stonemasons to restore an abandoned, 12-house Tuscan village he and friends bought for about $6,000. 

“There was no electricity, no running water; most of the houses had no windows, doors, or floors,” he recalls. “The place was a big, incredibly picturesque ruin.”

Jenkins returned to the U.S. in 1986. He taught AP economics and ran the history department at Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico until 2002, when he spent two years volunteering as a stonemason at Ghost Ranch, a former residence of Georgia O’Keeffe. Since 1997, he has been a director of FanWing, a company that created a new type of fan-powered plane.

As convoluted as his path may seem, it’s brought him not only a rich and varied life, but joy, too.

 “I’ve kept myself energized and occupied,” Jenkins says. “I am very happy doing all sorts of wildly different kinds of things.”