Mary Lou Nelson Penny died to this earth and entered Heaven to see her Lord and God in all His glory on January 9,2022. She was born July 31, 1923 at 1046 Kentucky Street, Lawrence, Kansas to Mary Estelle Nelson and Dr. William Oliver Nelson. She was the 4th and last child born into the Nelson family. She attended Quincy, Cordley, and Pinckney grade schools. Pinckney was where she first encountered her future husband, Junius M. Penny. Her father, being a physician, led to many family members living with them at different times while her mother nursed them through illness or old age. Mary Lou loved growing up in Lawrence and spending summers in Green Mountain Falls, Colorado.
After graduating from Liberty Memorial High School, she attended KU for two years studying in the first Occupational Therapy program offered. She and Jun Penny eloped their sophomore year to marry in Hutchinson where her brother, Jim Nelson lived, on February 6, 1943. It was wartime and Jun (who had enrolled in the Navy Air Corps) was later drafted into the Army because his marriage made him ineligible for the Air Corps. He was trained as a radiation tech, and Mary Lou followed him to each training site thus ending her college endeavors. Before deployment, they had a son and she was pregnant with their second child. When Jun returned from India, he finished his last 2 years at KU earning a degree in civil engineering. Black & Veatch hired Jun to be resident engineer in Caruthersville, Missouri where the young family moved. His father, M.N. Penny, recruited him to operate the Penny's Ready Mixed Concrete business in Emporia which Jun's brother, Charlie, had started. By this time, there were 4 little Penny's with one more to come. Mary Lou was a wonderful homemaker and partner to Jun. They were a team, reflecting a love of people and an open, welcoming home. They never seemed to meet a stranger. Mary Lou, with rare exception, was available for her children when they came home from school providing time for talking about the day's activities or their thoughts.
Mary Lou was active as a Sunday school teacher (wondering later what she had taught, not knowing the Lord), in the Women's Garden Club, and Research Study club as her children got older. She later served on the boards of the Emporia Public Library and the City Parks and Recreation. If she learned of neighbors or friends having trouble, whether financial, marital, or emotional, she tried to help. She took food to those who were ill, and helped several elderly women. She came to know many of the foreign students (from Ethiopia, India, Greece, Thailand, & Taiwan) attending Emporia State, inviting them into their home for meals and visits. She and Jun were the unofficial sponsors for a group of Hawaiian students at Emporia State in the late 50's, and remained in touch with some up until now. There were many women who were close friends to Mary Lou. Carmen and Oscar Hernandez, who had escaped Castro's Cuba losing all they owned except their lives and their son in the 1960's, became dear friends soon after arriving in Emporia. Carmen remained close until her death in 2015. Neither age nor culture proved a barrier in Mary Lou's friendships and outreach. Close to becoming empty-nesters, the Pennys embraced two children of friends from Columbia, South America, the Villarreals, to live with them as family: Johnnie stayed for a couple of years through 2 years of college and Leslie at age 11 stayed just a couple of months, but long enough to call Mary Lou "Mi Penny". When her children left home, Mary Lou took classes at Emporia State, especially enjoying The Great Plains Semester taught by Jim Hoy and others.
Published by Lawrence Journal-World on Jan. 12, 2022.