The Episcopal community remembers the life and legacy of founder Mr. G. Allen Penniman, Jr. on what would have been his birthday.
"A day never goes by without my thinking of Episcopal School." Mr. G. Allen Penniman, Jr.
Episcopal founder Mr. G. Allen Penniman, Jr. would say that his most notable civic contribution came in his support of Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. When he said the school was ever in his thoughts, there was real truth to that statement. Now, more than 50 years later, the school that began as a dream with an initial graduating class of 12 has grown into an institution known for its academic rigor and commitment to a whole child learning experience. More than 5,000 students have graduated from the school that Mr. Penniman envisioned, and Episcopal exists today because of his determination and generosity.
The Passing of a True Knight
“Episcopal lost a giant today,” Father Skully recently wrote to the Episcopal community. “Mr. Penniman was as involved in the life and growth of Episcopal as anyone has ever been. I believe it is safe to say that no one has done more to ensure the success of Episcopal over its first 50+ years than Mr. Penniman. Whether we knew him or not, we are all beneficiaries of the love and work he put into our school.”
Mr. Penniman was a visionary, who along with a small group of others, had a dream of creating an independent Episcopal school in Baton Rouge. Mr. Penniman’s daughter and Episcopal fifth grade teacher Margaret Boudreaux ’76 remembers those early days when her father and his colleagues met in her family’s living room to discuss the possibility of this new endeavor. “It was a renaissance of smart minds,” she says of the gathering. Margaret says that while Episcopal is easy to promote today, men like her father were selling something that did not even exist at the time. There was no campus and there were no buildings, teachers or textbooks. However, there was a strong desire for a school that would prepare students for purposeful and meaningful lives.
“How do you start a school?”
Mr. Penniman’s granddaughter and Episcopal development staff member Kate McDuff ’08 is in awe when she reflects upon the accomplishments of her grandfather. Kate grew up in a time when Episcopal was already flourishing and cannot imagine the conviction and passion necessary to bring such a school to life. “Imagine how much faith parents and kids had to have to do this,” she says. Mr. Penniman simply had a way of instilling that faith and confidence in others and in causes for which he was passionate. He was a believer in the potential of new ideas and courageous enough to make them happen.
“He was generous beyond measure,” says Margaret. While Mr. Penniman was a tremendous fundraiser, publicly supporting Episcopal in countless ways, Margaret says there were just as many quiet ways in which he supported the school and the Greater Baton Rouge community. Laurie Penniman McDuff, Mr. Penniman’s daughter, points to numerous examples of her father’s generosity. As a school nurse, Laurie encountered families with limited resources and funds. She says without hesitation, her father offered his assistance. Funds for a dentist appointment, food, a refrigerator and even the Denham Springs library after the 2016 flood are just a few examples of his kindness toward others. Laurie says there was never a question as to how her father would answer when called upon to help. “He didn’t think about it,” she says. “It just came right out of his mouth.”
Mr. Penniman was also incredibly generous with his time. Margaret points out that while he worked tirelessly to create the school he envisioned, he also had five young children, an ill wife and several businesses to oversee. “He made time for this vision and he never stopped,” she says. He also made time for the small, impactful details. He penned handwritten notes to Episcopal educators congratulating them on their accomplishments. He dedicated hours researching how to help teachers and as a result created a fund at Episcopal to support them in their effort to become National Board Certified. Every detail meant something, and every effort was worth the time.
“People mattered to him,” says Kate, who says while Mr. Penniman accomplished so much and inspired so many, he was also simply a terrific grandfather. Mr. Penniman was a family man, eager to celebrate every good report card and every graduation. “He was always available,” says Laurie. “Always willing to listen and help.” A man with such a large, busy life enjoyed the simple pleasures of time with loved ones. Each Thanksgiving the Penniman family gathered at the family farm, where Mr. Penniman would drive a tractor and the family would sit together around a bonfire. He always had time to comfort a crying baby. He enjoyed a good prank and a big laugh. He would say his family was his greatest accomplishment and he reveled in their successes.
Mr. Penniman’s love for others extended beyond the family tree. Kate says no matter how busy a room or how many people were waiting to speak with him, “when he spoke to you, he made you feel like you were the most important person in the room.” Mr. Penniman mentored others, offering wisdom and guidance when called upon, and with his innate business acumen he was called upon often. “When things were in a pickle, he was the first one to call,” Margaret says, noting his vast experience in owning and operating successful businesses, such as the Pak-a-Sak convenience stores and the Penniman Company.
Mr. Penniman did all of this with style and grace. “He was one of the most elegant men in Baton Rouge,” says Laurie. No matter the occasion, Mr. Penniman donned a starched shirt and pressed pants. “He always looked impeccable with the perfect suit for every occasion,” she says.
A Legacy Lives On
Mr. Penniman left a legacy in our community that will not be forgotten. After giving so much of himself to establish Episcopal over five decades, and being amongst the first members to join the Good Shepherds of Episcopal Legacy Society, Mr. Penniman could have stepped back and taken a less active role in school life. However, his devotion and dedication to Episcopal students and teachers was unyielding. One finds evidence of this support across the Episcopal campus. However, the plaques and dedications tell only a portion of the story. Mr. Penniman will be remembered and revered for the way he made people feel. He was a determined, charismatic leader who inspired others to leave their own legacy. His forward-thinking approach to leadership and mentorship changed the lives of thousands in the Greater Baton Rouge region, and the Episcopal community is forever grateful for his kindness and compassion.
The Episcopal community offers condolences and prayers to the Penniman family. We are deeply grateful to them for having shared their patriarch with the school for so long. Not a day will go by that his legacy is not remembered at the school for which he worked so faithfully to support.