|John S. Penn remembered|
Longtime University of North Dakota faculty member John S. Penn, advisor to three former University presidents, passed away in Grand Forks Monday at the age of 95.
Penn served as professor of speech and chairman of the UND Department of Speech from 1948 to 1967. During his long career at the University, he advised UND Presidents John West, George Starcher and Thomas Clifford.
Dave Vorland, retired UND director of University Relations, who knew Penn when he was a student at UND in the 1960s and then worked with him during the next two decades, remembered him as someone with “an unusual sense of what was appropriate for the University.”
Vorland recalled, “He was a very dignified man, a believer in excellence.”
Penn was selected by Starcher to run commencement and special ceremonies at UND. He was also the executive assistant to and a confidant of Starcher. He helped organized visits to the University by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and Ronald Reagan in 1986.
At UND, he served three terms as chairman of the Faculty Senate and was a representative on faculty committees for the State Board of Higher Education. He was an active member of the Speech Association of America and Central States Speech Association as a presenter and program participant.
In 1980, Penn was awarded the titles of professor emeritus of speech and dean emeritus of summer sessions. He had been listed in “Who’s Who in America,” “Who’s Who in the Midwest,” “Who’s Who in American Education” and the “Dictionary of American Scholars.”
Penn was head of UND’s speech department and served as director and dean of summer sessions, and dean of Continuing Education. Penn was also a leader in the development of educational television.
In a 2003 Grand Forks Herald article, Penn discussed how UND had changed over the past 60 years and his role in shaping University academics and governance.
“I was probably on more committees than anyone – I think,” he remarked in the interview.
Committees he chaired included convocations, exchange lecture and academics policies. Some of the committees on which he served were long-range planning, student affairs, Honors Day, television-radio administration, College of Education and College of Arts and Sciences.
“He had a bit of an edge to him when it came to open debate of various issues, academic and otherwise,” Vorland remembered. “John was always involved in that and always spoke his mind.”
Penn came to the University in 1940 as an assistant professor of speech before leaving temporarily in 1943 to serve two years in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was stationed in the Pacific Theater aboard command ships that coordinated amphibious invasions.
Penn was proud of his role in shaping UND after the war. He told the Herald that the influx of returning veterans and their families altered the social atmosphere not only of UND but also of higher education nationwide.
“Those GIs were serious and here to go to school,” he said in the interview. “Our institutions wouldn’t be where they are today if it wasn’t for the veterans who entered college after returning from the war.”
From 1945 to 1950, Penn also acted as the commandant’s representative for the Navy’s Ninth Naval District at ceremonial functions in North Dakota and Minnesota.
Born in 1914 in Portage, Wis., Penn attended Carroll College in Waukesha, Wis., where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1935. He earned his master’s and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Wisconsin. Prior to joining the faculty at UND, he taught at the University of Wisconsin, Rockford (Illinois) College and public schools in Wisconsin and Michigan.
An annual scholarship in Penn’s name is awarded to students majoring in speech or theater. It was established by friends and former students to show their appreciation and recognize his many years of service to UND, as well as his involvement and leadership in community service.
He was married to the late Margaret (Hjortson) Penn. They had three children: Stanley, Pamela and Leslie. All preceded him in death, according to Dave Vorland.