By Jane Worthington
For the Observer
Jess Akins was a Pepperell Kid and proud of it. Although he lived elsewhere for his adult life, Jess never forgot where he grew up and those he grew up with. In his “retirement years” he started a website dedicated to his Clift (Opelika) High School graduating class of 1952, initially (although its purpose later broadened) as a means of locating and bringing together his classmates.
On April 11, 1934, Jesse Arnold Akins, Jr. was born in the Pepperell Mill Village, where his parents were employed. After attending the village school, he went on to Clift High School (OHS) in Opelika, graduating in 1952.
After high school graduation, Jess joined the U.S. Army in March 1953. After basic training he was stationed in Korea and had tours in Vietnam and Vienna, Austria. The Vienna assignment was as military attache’ at the U.S. Embassy. While stationed in Austria, Akins met and married a lovely ‘Viennese Beauty’, Ina Regina. They had one son, Michael.
After that Akins was stationed at Fort Ord, California, followed by a year with special forces in Thailand teaching and advising Thai military. His last tour of duty was in Fort Dix, New Jersey. Jess retired in March 1973 while stationed there. He and his family loved the area and decided to make the Garden State their home.
His service career spanned 20 years and included overseas tours of duty in Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Austria and Thailand with numerous temporary duty assignments all over Europe and Asia. Stateside tours included Massachusetts, Virginia, California and New Jersey.
After retiring from the military, Jess began working in real estate and business and sales management. The Akins family traveled back to Austria at least once a year to visit Ina’s family. Jess loved to cook and became quite a home chef. He collected cookbooks and enjoyed inventing new recipes.
In late 1995 through 1998 Jess had some health issues that required him to ‘take it easy’ for a while. He bought a computer and started a marketing company from home working exclusively on the internet.
As he worked on his computer, he started thinking of his high school classmates and initiated the aforementioned website. Later Jess became good friends with Henry Stern, who was the ‘Opelika Historian’. The website expanded into a history of Pepperell, Opelika and surrounding areas. With Henry’s help and others he added over 2,000 pictures and the history of almost anything you can think of pertaining to this area.
On his 82nd birthday, April 11, 2016, Jesse Arnold (Jess) Akins, Jr. passed away. He loved his family and he loved the life he lived, and lived it large. Thank you, Jess Akins, for the memories, thank you for your service to our country and thank you for never forgetting where you came from. We will miss you!
Editor’s note: In 2005 Jane Worthington took over the website, as Jess wanted to ‘retire’ again. Today the website has been renamed to www.opelikapepperellhistory.com and continues to draw visitors daily. Since 2012, over fourteen thousand visitors have visited the site to enjoy the pictures and read the history of the area. But now it’s getting a little too much for Jane. If anyone is interested in taking over this valuable website, please contact Jane.