Karl Max Jenkins, a former German merchant mariner who jumped ship in Baltimore and later became a stationary engineer and building superintendent, died Saturday of heart failure at Oak Crest Village retirement community.
The former longtime Lauraville resident was 104.
"He was an old salt and a walking history book," said Frank G. Lidinsky, a Baltimore attorney who was Mr. Jenkins' personal representative and friend for more than two decades. "He was a smart and engaging guy."
He was born Karl Max Jeglinski (a name which was later changed to Jenkins when he served in the U.S. Army) to a Polish father who was a machinist and a German mother who was a homemaker, in Altona, Germany. He was raised in Hamburg, Germany.
"Karl would mark time and proudly state Kaiser Wilhelm II was ruling Germany at the time of his birth, and as a child he witnessed a devastated and defeated homeland," said Mr. Lidinsky.
He was educated at Gewerbe Schole, a trade school, and at the Blohm & Voss shipyard, both in Hamburg, where he was trained as a machinist.
In 1926, he began his maritime career in the German merchant marine, and sailed on freighters, tankers and passenger liners as a machinist, engine room fireman and oiler.
After the rise of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist Party in Germany in the early 1930s, Mr. Jenkins decided not to return to his homeland. While his vessel was docked in Baltimore, he jumped ship.
He lived in a seamen's hotel at the foot of Broadway until he eventually found work after joining the U.S. merchant marine. Some of the vessels he sailed on included the Baltimore Mail Line's City of Baltimore and the Old Bay Line steamer City of Norfolk that sailed between Baltimore and Norfolk, Va.
"He passed through the Panama Canal 14 times and the Suez Canal twice," said Mr. Lidinsky. "Karl kept all of his certificates and discharge papers and until the end of his life could recall details of the ships he had served on."
"I took him to see 'Titanic,' and he could have cared less about the Jack and Rose love story, but it was the scenes in the ship's boiler room that fascinated him," said Mr. Lidinsky.
When he wasn't at sea during the Depression, "he worked for $10 a week, seven days a week with a half-day off every other Sunday, for the notorious lawyer Harry B. Wolf, who had a mansion at Park Heights and Slade avenues," said Mr. Lidinsky.
It was his task to keep the running board of Mr. Wolf's Rolls-Royce clean.
"It had a white running board, and after the lawyer got into the car, Karl had to wipe it clean," said Mr. Lidinsky.
Mr. Jenkins met his future wife, the former Rose Marie Pauline Benser, at the Deutsches Haus, the original home of Bryn Mawr School, which had been turned into a social hub for the city's German community. They were married in 1933.
After leaving the sea in 1934, he worked for the next six years as a boiler room fireman and in maintenance at the Owings Mills Distillery, and from 1940 to 1942 was an operator at United Distillers Inc. on Wilkens Avenue.
Mr. Jenkins had applied for citizenship and was scheduled to be sworn in on Dec. 8, 1941. However, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred one day before, presaging American involvement in World War II.
"At the induction ceremony, anyone of Austrian, Hungarian or German ancestry was instructed to go into another room," said Mr. Lidinsky. "His citizenship was denied until he was drafted into the Army and sent to the Pacific Theater."
It was after Mr. Jenkins entered the Army in 1943 that his name was changed, when an Army sergeant in Texas couldn't pronounce his name.
"He and other 'ethnics' were escorted one morning to a courthouse in Texas, where they were all given Americanized names," said Mr. Lidinsky.
For the next two years, until being discharged in 1945, Mr. Jenkins served as a mortar gunner.
After the war, he went to work for Park & Tilford Distillers Inc. in Owings Mills, where he was a boiler room fireman, and built his home in the 2500 block of Halcyon Ave. in Lauraville.
Mr. Jenkins, who was a licensed stationary engineer, later became superintendent of the Baltimore Chamber of Commerce building at 17 Commerce St., where he worked until retiring in the 1970s.
"I grew up across the street from Mr. Jenkins in Lauraville, and he was a very loving, generous and kind man. He and his wife had no children and we were like his children," said Linda M. Kramer of Frederick.
Shortly after the couple moved to Oak Crest Village in 1997, Mrs. Jenkins died.
Mr. Jenkins never lost his affection for his German heritage and kept a bronze seal of the City of Hamburg and pictures of the city on the wall of his apartment.
He had remained vigorous and only stopped driving his car when he turned 97.
"He was still sharp at 104. He knew his surroundings and loved to tell us about things that were going on now as well as the old times," said Ms. Kramer.
"He had walked all of his life and had only been bedridden for the last three weeks of his life," said Ms. Kramer. "For his 104th birthday, we took him to Ocean Pride in Lutherville, where he enjoyed a crab cake and a beer."
"The last couple of years, I'd spend Friday night with Karl, where he'd discuss current affairs, politics, and loved to tell stories. He was also still speaking German," said Mr. Lidinsky.
Mr. Jenkins donated his body to the Maryland Anatomy Board, and at his request, no services will be held.
There are no survivors.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun