VIDEO: TJC statue returns to campus after missing for 18 years

Published on Thursday, 18 July 2013 22:52 - Written by By Emily Guevara eguevara@tylerpaper.com

As a college president, Dr. Harry Jenkins was known for his loyalty to Tyler Junior College, strict nature and larger than life personality.

As a statue, though, he was surprisingly more laid back. For the past 11 years, Jenkins’ life-sized bronze counterpart has been a beloved extension of the family for a pair of Austin friends.

“Over the years … Dr. Jenkins has been very busy,” TJC President Dr. Mike Metke said. “He’s traveled a lot. He’s been a crime fighter, a celebrity guest, a host at parties, and he’s tired and ready to come home, and we’re excited.”

On Thursday, Metke announced that the Jenkins statue, which was stolen from the TJC campus 18 years ago, has been returned home — but not without having some adventures in its absence.

Metke and other TJC administrators unveiled the 300-pound bronze sculpture by John Harper during a news conference.

The statue, which has an estimated value of $30,000, went missing on April 16, 1995. And although the college enlisted the Tyler Police Department to help with the investigation, nothing turned up.

Over the years, rumors abounded.

“He was reported to be at the bottom of Lake Tyler and at a frat house in Austin and all over,” Metke said. “The truth might be even more interesting.”

In 2011, the year of TJC’s 85th anniversary, the college reopened the investigation. This time it was criminal justice students who would search for the statue with help from area law enforcement agencies. Crimestoppers offered a reward and the media covered the announcements.

“We’re here today really because of that cold case investigation and the media’s help,” Metke said.

It turns out no one still knows, or those who do aren’t telling, what happened to the statue from 1995 to 2002.

But, since 2002, the statue has been in the custody of Bernardo “Berny” Trevino, a building engineer, who found it abandoned while working for an Austin area apartment complex.

The apartment had received a complaint from a resident about a statue that another resident had on the patio. Trevino went to check it out and sure enough, he found the statue, but the resident was gone.

The complex normally trashed everything left in an abandoned unit, but Trevino said he couldn’t part with the statue.

“There was no way I was going to put him in the trash compacter,” he said.

So he brought it home and convinced his roommate, Matthew Spencer Remington, to help him unload it.

The two suspected it was stolen and searched the Internet to see if they could find any information about where it came from. But nothing turned up.

So the statue, or “George” as they named it, became a part of the household.

“For the first couple (of) years, we had him on our patio and we’d decorate him for Halloween and for Christmas. He wore a Santa outfit and stuff like that,” Trevino said. “And we had a luau, he wore a lei. He was the quiet guy in the corner, and he kept peace.”

And for years “George” has remained a part of the family, even going with Trevino when he moved to a different place. It was only this year that he began to consider selling him.

Remington just completed a master’s degree in art education and was preparing to move to Montana, so the two had a garage sale to help get rid of some of his stuff.

Trevino had the statue in the garage, and some people asked about it even though he didn’t have a price tag on it.

“I told Matthew, ‘Let’s Google it one more time,’” Trevino said. “So we Googled the artist, and we found other statues small statues like that, and it said $6,000.”

If that was the price for small statues, they figured theirs had to be worth considerably more, which meant it likely belonged to somebody at one time.

“So we Googled again,” he said. “We put the artist’s name, the year and stolen statue and we had a link and it gave us a phone number for the Crimestoppers, and that’s how we did that.”

It was their call to the Tyler Police Department that got the ball rolling. The police contacted Tyler Junior College’s Police Department Chief Randy Melton.

Melton was at a conference at the time in Denton but contacted Trevino and asked him to send photos. Trevino did, and Melton and Tom Johnson, executive director of campus police, confirmed they had a match.

Melton and Criminal Justice Department chairman Jason Waller traveled to Austin to retrieve the statue, and Metke viewed it July 5.

At that point, it was moved to the President’s Office where it had been until Thursday.

Other than the tarnished bronze and a dent on the glasses from when it fell over once, the statue is in good condition.

Metke said the college plans to have local sculptors clean and repair it and reintroduce it to the campus as a landmark, likely in the fall. It will be placed in Jenkins Hall so it overlooks the front lawn, and a security camera will keep watch over it.

Metke said he remains interested in learning who took the statue from the campus and had it before Trevino acquired it. He said the statute of limitations has run out so the college wouldn’t prosecute anyone for stealing it. They are just curious who took it and where it was during the seven years before Trevino found it.

Trevino, who received a $5,000 check as a reward, said he is just happy to see “George” returned home and thankful he could be a part of the experience.

“It’s an honor to be here with you guys and I know he’s well taken care of, and I can’t wait to come and visit to see him all polished up and in his place where he’s supposed to be …” he said. “It’s just awesome that he’s back, you know. It was meant to be.”