Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Irwin Ernest Jennings Nov. 1, 1934 - Mar 22, 2023, our Lakeside pastor

The Rev. Irwin E. Jennings transitioned from this life to the next on March 22, 2023. Having tenaciously challenged Parkinson’s for years, Irwin tested positive for Covid on March 21st. Throughout the day and into the evening he continued to reach out to his beloved family and friends via phone calls, texts and emails. The following morning, he quietly slipped away. The family wishes to thank the wonderful staff and residents at Harbor Chase of Sarasota for embracing and caring for Irwin over the last 2 months of his earthly life.

Born on All Saints Day in 1934, Irwin was the first child and only son of Nesta (Emler) and Ernest Jennings. He was the protective older brother of Sue Ann Jennings Hochstetter; first cousin to Jimmy and Nancy Larr; second cousin to Corky and Larry Shafer; grandson of Sam and Laura Jennings; grandson of Irwin and Bessie Emler; and beloved nephew of aunts Olive Jennings Larr, Irene Jennings Johnston, Lucille Jennings Farrell, Mildred Jennings, Jean Jennings Ruble, Bonnie Emler Shafer and Eileen Emler Ford.

Irwin lived his first few years on Adams Street in Coshocton. As the story goes, Irwin took to stopping at Andy’s Restaurant on Monday mornings on his walk to first grade, only to spend his week’s milk money on a single burger. This indulgence earned him the lifelong nickname “Wimpy” after the character from Popeye.

When Irwin was 5, the family moved to Tyndal to care for his great grandfather, Grandpap Emler. The house had no indoor plumbing, no refrigeration, and for years, no phone. But Irwin enjoyed life in Tyndal, roaming the hills with Trixie (his cocker spaniel), shooting hoops against the side of the barn, attending picnics on the church lawn, and hitchhiking into town on weekends to see the movies playing at all 3 theaters.

Irwin attended Conesville High School, where he was a popular and athletic student. He most enjoyed playing basketball with his best friend, Bill Abbott. Star turns on the Conesville basketball court were offset by arduous summer jobs on local road crews, in nearby factories and in the potato fields surrounding Tyndal.

In the fall of 1950, when he was just 15 years old, Irwin lost his mother to cancer. Thankfully, Irwin and his sister were blessed with caring grandparents and aunts, who took them in and lovingly created a patchwork quilt of family. Irwin was forever grateful to his family, and for the rest of his life he visited frequently and faithfully as an expression of his enduring gratitude.

In 1952 Irwin graduated from Conesville High School and soon found his place at Muskingum College. There he enjoyed theater and Stag Club and developed into a strong competitive debater. Years later, reading the history of Muskingum College, Irwin was startled to learn that “college president Dr. Robert Montgomery advised the faculty that Muskingum had enrolled students in 1951 and 1952 ordinarily ineligible for admission - and that their counseling and guidance would require more time than usual." Despite this prediction, Irwin successfully graduated from Muskingum College in 1956.

Following graduation, Irwin taught for a year at Louisville High School. The next year brought him home to Coshocton and to a teaching and coaching position at his alma mater.

Irwin and Janet Louise Gray had their first date on New Year’s Eve, 1957. Months later, Irwin joined the Air National Guard and headed to Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio, Texas. It was there that Irwin came to the decision to pursue the ministry, and in 1958 he enrolled at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.

From Garrett, Irwin regularly hitchhiked home to see Janet at Muskingum, and in the Spring of 1959, Irwin and Janet became engaged. The following year, on June 11, 1960, Irwin and Janet were married at the Plainfield United Methodist Church. Irwin often said that marrying Janet was the best decision he ever made in his life.

One week after the wedding, Irwin and Janet moved to rural Indiana for his student pastorate at the Reynolds-Guernsey Charge. From there, Irwin commuted 130 miles to Evanston for classes each week. Fortunately, one of the first McDonalds lay en route, and Irwin/Wimpy was delighted to discover it.

After 2 years in Indiana, Irwin and Janet, and now also Beth and Carrie, returned to Ohio and the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. In 1962 at Hoover Auditorium in Lakeside, Irwin was ordained in the United Methodist Church.

Irwin’s first pastorate was at Calvary UMC in East Liverpool. There the family added a third child, a son, David. These were lean years for Irwin and Janet; they had to borrow from Janet’s dad to pay the heating bill and squeezed a family of 5 into a red VW Beetle. Next the young family moved to Elyria, where Irwin enjoyed building the youth fellowship program. From Elyria, Irwin and family moved on to Barberton and St. Paul’s UMC, where he played on both the church basketball and ping pong teams.

In 1973 Irwin accepted the appointment to Faith UMC in North Canton. This was to be a wonderfully rewarding 16-year appointment, with a thriving congregation and the forming of many lifelong friendships. During this time Irwin earned an M.A from Case Western Reserve University and a Master in Divinity from the Graduate Theological Foundation.

Irwin then became Superintendent of the Wooster District and served in this capacity for 6 years, before accepting the appointment to his last pastorate, the Medina UMC. In 2001, following 42 years of ministry, Irwin retired with Janet to Mount Vernon, spending summers at Lakeside and winters in Sarasota.

But most ministers don’t truly retire, and so in 2006, Irwin stepped into the role of worship coordinator for Lakeside’s Dockside Service. With Janet and Beth’s help, Irwin ministered to a steadily growing congregation for the next 12 summer seasons, retiring from Lakeside in 2018. In 2021 the site of the Dockside Service was dedicated in honor of Irwin and Janet and is now the Jennings East Deck of the Lakeside Pavilion.

During his 42 years of ministry, Irwin deeply touched so many of our lives through parenting, preaching, prayer and his very presence. His acts of service in Sunday morning services, home and hospital visits, confirmations, weddings, baptisms and funerals have left an indelible mark on our lives. And Irwin was truly blessed by knowing each and every one of you. He delighted in his family, his friends, and his flock. He loved and prayed for each of you.

The love of Irwin’s life, Janet, passed on June 5, 2022, and he grieved tremendously for her. In the midst of our enormous grief at the passing of Irwin, our Dad, our Boppy, our brother, cousin, uncle, minister and friend, we are so very grateful for the life of this warm, caring, gentle, loving and humble man, and for the knowledge that Irwin and Janet are together again, in God’s presence, forever.

Irwin was the loving father of Elizabeth Jennings Sibbring; Carrie Ellen Jennings, David Ernest Jennings, daughter-in-law Linda Doepker Jennings, son-in-law, Charles Mahler, and the proud grandfather of Sarah Elizabeth Sibbring, Laura Anne Sibbring, Parker Jennings Patterson, Nikki Leigh Jennings and Lindsey Bliss Jennings.

A Celebration of Life for the Rev Irwin E. Jennings is planned for June 11, 2023 at 2:00 pm on the Jennings East Deck of the Lakeside Pavilion. All are welcome. Interment of ashes to follow at 4:30 pm at the Memorial Garden. Family dinner at a location TBD at 5:30 pm.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a contribution to Lakeside Chautauqua in support of Religious Life. You can mail a check payable to “Lakeside Chautauqua Foundation” with “Irwin Jennings Memorial” on the memo line to Lakeside, 236 Walnut Ave, Lakeside, Ohio 43440. Or you can make a gift at and put ‘In memory of Irwin Jennings’ in the comment box.

His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Matthew 25:23

Obituary information for Irwin E. Jennings (

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Irwin was our summer Pastor (United Methodist) at Lakeside, Ohio, for twelve years.  He spoke at our 50th wedding anniversary in August 2010 and again at our son's interment at Lakeside Memorial Gardens in August 2020. We often had ice cream visits in the evening on our porch with Janet and Irwin. Although challenged by Parkinson's in his later years, it never stopped his activities and he regularly participated in the Parkinson's group at Lakeside which met for exercise/therapy and support. I'll always remember him standing at the little pulpit on the Lakeside Pavilion with Lake Erie behind him, preaching and smiling and sharing the gospel.

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