Jenny Penney Oliver, age 58, of Athens, died on Wednesday, June 12, 2013, after a one-year battle with lung cancer.
She is survived by her husband of 33 years, J. Steve Oliver, and her sister, Melinda Hamrick, of West Jefferson, N.C.
Jenny was born on May 15, 1955, in Wilmington, N.C., and came home from the hospital to the place that would be her hometown: Wallace, N.C. She was the daughter of the late Charles Brantley Penney and Dovie Logan Penney.
She graduated from the Wallace-Rose Hill High School in 1973 and matriculated to North Carolina State University in the following fall. At NCSU, Jenny majored in psychology, and in her senior year, she was honored with the Psychology in the Community award given to one graduating senior of that program to recognize outstanding effort. This was just the first of many awards that would recognize her incredible sense of responsibility for the community in which she lived.
After graduating from NCSU in 1977, Jenny was employed as a psychologist assistant at Broughton Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Morganton, N.C.
On June 23, 1979, she married Steve Oliver and began a life that included more education and travel. In the early 1980s, she and Steve moved back to the Raleigh area, where Jenny ultimately received a Master's of Adult & Community College Education degree at NCSU, while also serving as the residence hall manager for the International Living & Learning Community of Alexander Hall on the NCSU campus.
After a move to Athens in 1983, Jenny was employed by the UGA Vice President of Student Affairs to work in the Office of Judicial Programs. Many of the students with whom she worked in that program remained friends until her death and have cited her as a powerful inspiration for their own sense of community involvement.
In 1986, Jenny and Steve moved to Manhattan, Kan., and new employment at Kansas State University. In her work at KSU, Jenny began to put her intense focus on issues of multicultural education and diversity. Working there as part of a Ford Foundation-funded project to examine the nature of multicultural education found in schools of the western U.S., she traveled extensively and developed partnerships with school districts in such diverse places as Yakima, Wash., and the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations of Arizona. This work, along with her life-long interest in issues of equity and diversity, stimulated the dissertation that ultimately resulted in her receiving a Ph.D. in the area of Counselor Education & Educational Psychology from Kansas State University in 1991.
In 1990, Jenny and Steve returned to Athens, where Jenny served as the assistant to the Dean of the UGA College of Education through much of the 1990s. Ultimately, she held a faculty position in the UGA COE in Counselor Education in the Department of Counseling & Human Development Services until her death. At the UGA COE, Jenny served as a primary motivator of efforts to recognize and support efforts of diversity, inclusion, and social justice.
Throughout her career, Jenny was the recipient of many awards and recognitions for her outstanding contributions. Especially noteworthy awards and recognitions included the Outstanding Alumni Award for the NCSU College of Education in 2004; the 1st Annual University of Georgia Diversity Award in 2004; and the UGA President's Fulfilling the Dream Award in connection with the annual MLK Celebration in 2009. Most recently, the COE Diversity Award was renamed the Jenny Penney Oliver Diversity Award, and Jenny was its first recipient in 2013.
Jenny's commitment and service extended outside of UGA to the Athens community and beyond. She served on many boards for organizations including the National Association for Multicultural Education; the Foundation for Excellence in Education; the Young Leadership Development Project; and the Clarke County Department of Social Services. Jenny was also an ardent member of the Democratic Party, and played many roles within the Clarke County Democratic Party, include Chairperson.
Jenny's love of working within and across diverse communities is also reflected in the travel she and Steve enjoyed throughout her lifetime. Their travels took them to places as far away as Rome, Beijing, and Bangkok, but her favorite trips may have been to a little cottage on the banks of Lake Hartwell.
Jenny led a full life with a strong sense of dedication to the many communities of which she was a part. For many, when the words justice, equality, equity, generosity, compassion, love, and commitment are spoken, three letters come to mind: J P O. Jenny will be greatly missed.
In lieu of a funeral, a memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 20, at the UGA Chapel.
Persons wishing to make donations in Jenny's honor are encouraged to consider the Cancer Foundation of Northeast Georgia; the Foundation for Excellence in Education; the Adopt a Golden of Atlanta organization; and Caringbridge.
Further information will be forthcoming in the next weeks about a specific designation for donations at a local foundation, which will have a specific purpose and carry Jenny's name.
The family wishes that donations be sent in place of flowers.
Lord & Stephens Funeral Home, Athens, is in charge of the arrangements.
Published in Athens Banner-Herald on June 14, 2013