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Alderman Josh Jennings discusses the situation with the Jasper fire department's finances at a Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen's meeting. / Photo by Ryan Lewis

Jasper, Tennessee, alderman and well-known local business and civic leader Joshua Jennings died Monday after a brief illness. He was 36.

Jennings was dedicated to his community, loved people and worked hard at the things that were important to him, Jasper Vice Mayor Paul West said Friday.

"He was all about the town, and not only that, Marion County as a whole," West said.

"It's going to be hard to replace him in the community," West said. "The man was smart. He had a mind that was always thinking. He always had a different perspective on things."

West said he learned of Jennings' big heart after a fire at some local apartments that had displaced the residents.

After realizing the people he saw at the scene with their belongings had no place to stay, West said, Jennings went to a local motel and negotiated some rooms for the people and paid for it himself.

"He's helped several people like that; that's the kind of person he was," West said. "He was in a class by himself."

Paul Evans, Jasper's mayor, said Friday that Jennings' death was a shock to the community.

"It's hard to comprehend," Evans said. The mayor said he didn't get to know Jennings until he was elected to the board of aldermen, but that he knew Jennings' family all his life, describing them as "really fantastic people."

"It's such a tragedy," Evans said. "He was such a good young man."

Evans had met the future alderman and businessman a long time ago but he didn't realize it until later.

Years ago, Evans said, he used to deliver kerosene to a convenience store owned by Jennings' grandfather in the Whiteside community.

"This little kid was running around and would come and fill the tank and all," Evans recalled. During a conversation one day, Evans learned that little kid was Jennings.

Evans and West both praised Jennings' work in 2016 to establish the Lions Club Jack-O-Lantern Jamboree in Jasper, an event they said draws huge participation. Evans said the event makes Jasper "look like a Hallmark moment."

Jennings, a Chattanooga native, was a mortician who first worked at Chattanooga Funeral Home and then managed Tate Funeral Home in Jasper for several years, according to his obituary. Jennings and partners Ralph Mosier and Burt Schaerer in 2011 developed Hamilton Funeral Home and, in 2018, the group purchased Rogers Funeral Home in Marion County.

In politics, Jennings was voted Marion County Democratic Party chairman — the youngest to hold the post — and was elected alderman for the town of Jasper in 2016. His obituary credits him with "nearly single-handedly" revitalizing the Jasper Lions Club, growing it from fewer than 20 members to more than 50 during his tenure.

Among his accomplishments, Jennings was awarded the club's highest honor of Lionism, The Melvin Jones Fellowship. This year, Jennings was recognized as Marion County 2019 Citizen of the Year by the Marion County Chamber of Commerce.

Jennings lived first in Lookout Valley then moved to Marion County where he attended Jasper Middle School, according to his obituary. He graduated from Hamilton Heights Christian Academy and later from the John A. Gupton College of Mortuary Science.

West said Jennings would be missed.

"He was one of those that when he came in, he brought some life to the room," he said.

Visitation will take place from noon-2 p.m. Central on Saturday at McKendree United Methodist Church, 106 Highway 150 in Jasper. A celebration of life will follow at 2 p.m. Read the full obituary here.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

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