Posted by: Phil Anderson | November 9, 2014

Inspired by a True Story


My father-in-law passed away a few weeks ago. He will be remembered for his spiritual strength, his stories, his smile, and his sense of humor.

John Penning lived a full life, 93-years long. Here’s an excerpt from his obituary, written by my sister-in-law, his daughter:

John grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and worked as a boy with his parents at Penning Hardware store. He attended both Calvin College and a radio school in Valparaiso, Indiana, before moving with his new bride, Betty, to Anchorage, Alaska, in 1943. There he worked as a Flight Radio Operator for Alaska Airlines on their Air Transport Command routes for the U.S. Government, shipping supplies to England during World War II.

John took an opportunity to work for Pan American World Airways in 1946. For the next 35 years, John and Betty traveled the world on various assignments. PanAm took John from Alaska to Thailand, and then to Hawaii. From there the family moved to San Francisco and then Long Island. After New York, John was assigned to Liberia, West Africa, and then a second assignment in Hawaii to open the Hilo station there. After the assignment in Hawaii ended, PanAm sent his family to Karachi, Pakistan, and John eventually retired and was able to come stateside again. He recollected that he had probably worked in or visited over 60 countries, taking his family to many of them. He was always happy that he was able to give his children a world view, but bring them back to Grand Rapids where his roots began.


In the more than twenty years I’ve been married to his youngest daughter I heard many of his stories, several of them more than once. There’s the one about the family’s pet gibbon in Thailand. And the time he and his son met Charles Lindbergh at the airport in Liberia. And the vague hints at why he stayed behind when India bombed Pakistan in 1971 and all the other Americans were evacuated.

But besides these and dozens of others, there are so many more stories I haven’t heard. Now that he’s gone those stories are lost, and we’ll never know what truly happened. But the possibilities remain, to spark ideas and inspiration for new stories.


  1. […] Inspired by a True Story […]

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