AKRON, Ohio — He was a man who dedicated 44 years of service to Akron and was a mentor to NBA star LeBron James. 

Just weeks after celebrating his retirement, Jerry Rowland passed away at the age of 69. On Monday, his legacy was celebrated inside of Ed Davis Community Center in Akron, a place he called home for decades.

"That’s why you see what you see," said Rochelle Rowland, Jerry's wife of 23 years. "Because that is Jerry Rowland."

Jerry worked as the recreation supervisor at the Ed Davis Community Center on Perkins Park Dr. But beyond running the recreation center, Rowland was most notably known as a mentor to Akron's youth.

"I don’t think he understood the magnitude of how he was reaching them," said Rochelle.

Rowland's family and friends said Rowland had a mission to make a difference, and it began with being a positive role model. 

Family of Jerry Rowland
Amani Abraham

"Honestly, in our community, you don't get a lot of positive male influences," said Tim Anderson, founder of the non-profit Fallen Father Foundation. "Everybody in the streets teaching the wrong stuff. But Jerry, for 40 plus years, has been building character and teaching us about success."

Rowland spent decades reaching out to kids like Anderson and Akron's own LeBron James. James posted a message on Twitter after learning about Jerry's passing, calling Jerry a legend who "always looked out for me when I was a youngin walking the streets looking for a place to hoop."

Bryan Williams, a strength and conditioning coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School is thankful for a conversation he had with Rowland as a young kid -- in an unlikely place.

"I met him through ISS, in-school suspension," said Williams. "...he just was like, if you change your attitude, you can be someone."

Williams said he followed the advice, staying out of ISS and living his dreams on the field playing football and now as a strength and conditioning coach. 

Mayor Dan Horrigan said Jerry's legacy will continue to run deep as his message passes on to the next generation.

"LeBron learned from him. I learned from him and countless others learned from him," said Horrigan. "That’s the example I think we need to set for our community."

It’s a cycle of growth that Rochelle hopes will be part of her husband’s legacy. 

"Continue to give back," said Rochelle. "Continue to watch out for our children. Give them a safe haven and encourage them to follow their dreams."

Ed Davis Community Center Staff
Staff members shared memories of Jerry Rowland inside of the Ed Davis Community Center in Akron.
Amani Abraham