Sara Irene Penner passed away on January 1, 2024. She was nearing 95 years of age. Sara, was born to Isaac and Anna (Pauls) Penner on a farm west of Inman, Kansas on March 24, 1929.
Low German, or Plautdietsch, was her first spoken language, a skill she retained throughout her life. Penny, as she was known to family and close friends as an adult, attended the Little Valley Country School, a half mile south of her home and where she first learned English. Her grasp of the English language was so strong as to enable her, during the last week of her life and with a wry smile, to offer to correct her niece’s grammar and to defeat her nephew and his wife in her much-loved game of Scrabble. She graduated from Inman High School in 1947, having boarded in town while school was in session to avoid the daily seven plus mile trip.
Penny spent her professional life in volunteer positions and employed as support staff in various non-profit organizations dedicated to providing care to those in need. One year after graduating from high school Sara attended Bethel College in North Newton for a year. She then volunteered with Mennonite Central Committee in their Washington D.C. office from 1950-1951. This was followed by two years at MCC Headquarters in Akron, Pennsylvania before taking a two-year assignment in Paraguay.
Upon her return to the States, Penny provided secretarial services for the General Conference Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas for three years. She then returned to Bethel College in 1958 and earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1961, at the age of 32. She may have been employed part time at the GC Headquarters, as well as at Menno Travel Service for possibly four months, during the summers and her time in school. Following graduation Penny returned to the Akron Headquarters of MCC, this time in a paid position, from 1961-64.
Penny moved back to central Kansas in 1964. Feeling a bit out of place as a young single woman in small town central Kansas, Penny set up residence in Wichita. Penny’s sister Elizabeth (Liz) informed her employer that she had a sister she felt would be a good replacement for her when Liz left to get married that year. Penny provided her secretarial skills to the Institute of Logopedics from 1964-72. This organization, now known as Heartspring, provides therapeutic services to autistic children and others with complex needs and developmental disabilities. Then from 1972-1997 Penny was the Administrative Assistant for the President of Prairie View, a mental health care facility in Newton.
In her personal life Penny pursued many interests. She had an artistic side and for many years was a dedicated potter. Her photographer's eye was drawn to the details of individual plants, the expansiveness of the flint hills, as well as family and friends. She established her own dark room and offered to teach those who showed interest. For many years her family members looked forward to receiving calendars highlighting some of her photos from the previous year. Penny also made some watercolor paintings of the flint hills. Season tickets to the Wichita Symphony were an important priority. Penny enjoyed traveling. For many years she alternated going east then west with a lifelong friend she made during her time in MCC who resided in Indiana.
Penny took a special interest in her nieces and nephews. When they were young, they were invited for an overnight stay and a chance to explore Wichita with her. She kept a calendar, without a designated year, hanging on the wall on which she listed birthdays so she would not miss sending them a card, which usually included a two-dollar bill. This practice extended even to her grandnephews and grandnieces.
Penny enjoyed showing off cardinal statues that had once belonged to her mom. Her favorite sweater was embroidered with cardinals.
Towards the end of her employment years and during her retirement, Penny served as a volunteer with Botanica the Wichita Gardens. In 2016 she received the Friends of Botanica Star Award for providing over 10,000 hours of service to Botanica, which is memorialized on a tile at the gardens. She continued volunteering for another four years for a total of more than twenty-five years.
In January 2020 Penny moved from Wichita to Kidron Inc. independent living. In November of 2022 she moved to Assisted Living and into Healthcare in March of 2023.
Sara was preceded in death by her parents, Isaac and Anna (Pauls) Penner, a brother Elmer who died at birth, sister and brother-in-law Elizabeth & Charles Thomas, and sister-in-law Joetta (Eck) Penner. She is survived by her brothers Paul Penner and Alvin & Sue Penner, six nephews and nieces, twelve grandnephews and grandnieces, four great grandnephews and great grandnieces.
A memorial service will be held at Kidron Hall in North Newton on Saturday, February 3 at 3:00.