Wllford Penny (MDiv'40)

Wilford Penny












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Page from the 1940 Student Edition of The Austin Seminary Bulletin (Vol. LVI, No. 2)

Wilford “Wil” Penny (MDiv’40), Austin Seminary’s oldest living alumnus, has fond memories of his time at seminary and of his roommate and most cherished friend C. Ellis Nelson. The duo first met at Austin College, where they were both graduates of the class of 1937. Together they came to seminary, were roommates for much of their three years, graduated from Austin Seminary in 1940, and enjoyed a deep friendship lasting seventy-six years. Ellis Nelson died in June 2011.

The friends embarked on their separate post-Seminary journeys in 1941, not long after they took a road trip to Mexico City. Wil moved to California to be near family because he was diagnosed with what at the time was considered an incurable, disabling disease. After months of recovery, he returned to college in Los Angeles, where he earned a business degree and became a Certified Public Accountant. He met his wife, Marilynn, at the firm where they both worked. They were married in 1944 and blessed with six children--Elizabeth, Carolynn, David, Martha, Margaret, and Kathrynn.

During the last twenty years in professional practice, he and Marilynn shared office space and staff, but maintained their separate practices. They sold their practices in 2001 and retired to Washington State in 2002 to be near one of their daughters and her family.

He said, “Though my final career choice was other than the ministry, I have always been deeply grateful for the knowledge, the spiritual enrichment, and the joyous companionship of those years.”

Wil enjoyed a sixty-year accounting career, which included twenty-eight years in professional practice and thirty-two years as chief financial officer in several corporations. His business travel often took him to the East Coast, when Ellis was at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Wil recalls being a guest in the New Jersey home of Ellis and Nancy on several occasions, and also in Austin when Ellis returned to Austin Seminary and when Wil returned to attend MidWinters.

Early in their marriage, Wil and Marilynn found a home in the Lutheran church, and all six of their children were brought up and confirmed in that tradition. He served as Council President in his congregation and was a member of the Council for many years. He occasionally taught Bible classes, served as the financial secretary, and was active in many programs.

In 2006 Marilynn began suffering from a respiratory disorder. Her conditioned worsened the following year, which put her in and out of hospitals and nursing facilities most of that year.  She died on Christmas morning of 2007.

A year later, Wil sold their condo in Washington and moved into Judson Park, a continuing care retirement facility in Des Moines, Washington.  “I have been here two and a half years now and find a very happy life here,” he writes. “I still belong to the Rotary Club of Federal Way, the next suburb south, and I am active in Grace Lutheran Church in Des Moines. I keep up active connections by e-mail with many family members and friends, and the computer has been an incomparable joy and convenience.”


Life is just a bowl of cherries

One of my fondest memories [at Austin Seminary] is of Dr. Curry's secretary and office manager, Mrs. Kidd. She was a real wonder in serving as a sort of surrogate ”Mother” to all of us seminarians. I used to tell her that ”life is just a bowl of cherries,“ and we bandied that thought around for most of the three years I was there.

Memories of Professors

Dr. Curry's style of teaching English Bible was so refreshing and unique that I never tired of his coupling of modern scenarios with Bible stories. He had Saul, the Pharisee (Apostle Paul), catching a midnight train to scurry up to Damascus to root out the new Christians. I still have the Bible I used in those three years, with Dr. Curry's outlines for each book carefully written with a fountain pen in the margins and blank spaces.  

Dr. Gribble's mastery at teaching Hebrew enabled me to acquire considerable skill in reading some of the Old Testament books, and I am still able to recognize the meaning of many Hebrew names. I think partly as a result, ten Hebrew first-names turn up among our six children and fourteen grandchildren.

Pranks at Seminary

Innocent pranks were a hallmark of dormitory life. One I will recite for your amusement is much too long for inclusion in your published remarks, but it will illustrate the type of stunts we enjoyed. Will Fred had a girlfriend in college not far from Austin, and they exchanged letters frequently. Ellis, Ed, and I enlisted her help secretly in setting up an episode. I had two pair of old, ragged, unsightly colored socks. We sent one sock of each pair to her, and she packaged them up and sent them as a gift to Will Fred. When he opened the package, he was totally nonplussed, and wondered what to do. We convinced him to respond graciously and thank her for the gift.
In response to his thanks, she wrote back and told him that since he enjoyed the socks so much, she was going to send another pair. So she packaged up the remaining one of each sock, and sent them to Will Fred. His consternation and dismay was comical. We then let him in on the whole scheme, and we all had a big laugh.

On the receiving end...

Quote from Dr. Robert F. Gribble in his article “Reflections of Early Seminary Days” in the March 1960 Austin Seminary Bulletin (Vol. LXXV, No. 5) about student pranks on campus:

“Wilford Penny must still remember the ad which Ellis Nelson put in the daily paper. It read: Handsome young student with car would welcome correspondence with promising young lady, view to matrimony. Signed Wilford Penny.”