Penny’s ‘home’ is still Mansfield

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 2, 2002

Whatever his title has been &045; a State Senator, U.S. Congressman or Governor candidate, Tim Penny’s visits to a farmhouse west of Mansfield is always a family thing.

Last weekend, Penny, suspending his campaign to honor Sen. Paul Wellstone, spent an evening at the farmhouse with his friends and his mother, Donna Penny, the owner of the house.

Sitting around a bonfire, Penny sung his favorite ballads of the Beatles, a group he has revered since he was playing in a rock band during high school.

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“I hope that gave him some stability,” said caring mother Donna, 71, the master of house.

She raised her six sons and one daughter in the 100-year-old house. “We had only one bathroom for seven kids. It was kind of crazy. But, I didn’t even think about it,” Donna said.

Growing up, Penny helped with work on the 160-acre farm which had both crops and small dairy operation. Penny went to school at the Mansfield Country School and Kiester High School. He lived there until he went to a college in Winona.

“Tim was a serious little boy, very serious,” Donna said. &uot;One time when Tim was in the Senate, there was a party to roast him. They asked me to give a little talk on whatever I wanted about Tim. But, they wanted it to be funny. And I told them, ‘I’m really sorry but Tim wasn’t funny,’ I couldn’t find anything funny to say about him.”

“He loved reading, as he still does now,” Donna said. During his elementary school days, Penny and some neighbor boys formed a group they called “Christian Book Club,” that circulated books among the members.

“Tim was a kind of peacemaker among our kids,” Donna said. “He never fought and was always compassionate.”

In 1965 when Penny was 13, his brother Troy fell into a coma by hydrocephalus. The experience helping Troy nurtured Penny’s thoughts on the unprivileged and eventually drove him to the world of politics.

“Tim is a self-made person. He worked his way through the college,” Donna said. Every summer, Penny worked at a factory and the railroad to earn some money. He would have to try to hitchhike to get back home for weekends. “He realized that the 160-acre farm could give not a lot of money for kids’ education. But, he had a determination to get his education,” Donna said.

None of Penny’s runs for the state office, the Congress, and now the Governors seat have surprised Donna. “Tim always knows what he is doing, and he is always successful,” she said.

Constantly with a “Tim Penny” pin on her chest, Donna has been helping Penny’s campaign. “I will be 72 in January. So, a lot of door-knocking days are behind me. But, I do what I can,” she said.