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ATIKOKAN ONTARIO

Atikokan Ontario : Obituary of John Leonard Penner (1929-2019).

Atikokan High School, teachers and board members, 1957.

John Penner is leaning against the blackboard, far right; his wife-to-be, Jean McMillan, is seated front right, in the white sweater. Photo was taken March 8, 1957 in the science lab of the old Atikokan High School. Click to see the full story.


Dr. John L. Penner passed away peacefully in Collingwood July 9th 2019 at the age of 90. Beloved husband of the late Jean S. Penner (McMillan). Loving father of John (Carmyn), James, Elizabeth Inglis (Jeffrey) and Timothy. Cherished grandfather of John, Neill and Andrew Penner, Mae, and Georgiana Penner and Reuel and Yael Inglis. Predeceased by brothers Paul, Ernest, Alfred and Peter, sisters Elizabeth and Helen.

John Leonard Penner was born in Pembina Manitoba on June 9th, 1929, the first son of John and Elizabeth Penner, who emigrated from the Soviet Union to Canada earlier in the decade. The family settled in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, where John spent his youth. Six more children followed; Paul, Ernie, Peter, Alfred, Elizabeth, and Helen, to whom John remained devoted throughout his life.

After earning his Bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Manitoba, John began his career teaching for two years at St. Mary's Parish High School, a one room classroom for grade 10 and 11 students where he taught all subjects except French. John was honored at a class reunion in 2005. John continued with teaching high school for a number of years in Ontario, including in Fort William and Kapuskasing. He met his wife Jean Shirley MacMillan, also a teacher, and they were married in September 1959. Their first three children, John Burns, James Ernest, and Elizabeth Jeanine were born in Kapuskasing.

In 1964 John retired from high school teaching to pursue a career in microbiology research, completing his Master's degree in 1967, and his Ph.D. in 1970, at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. John and Jean's fourth child, Timothy Leonard, was born in Kingston in 1965.

Following his appointment as a post-doctoral researcher at Queen's, John accepted a permanent appointment at the University of Toronto, where he remained for the remainder of his career, serving as Head of the Department of Medical Microbiology in the final years of his tenure. John, Jean and their family settled in Guildwood Village, Scarborough. Following Jean's death in 2012, John moved to Collingwood to be closer to his daughter, Elizabeth, her husband Jeff Inglis, and their two children.

John had an outstanding career as a researcher in microbiology and immunology. He authored or co-authored scores of journal articles. In recognition of his achievements, the bacterium Proteus penneri was named in his honour.

John was devoted to his family. He was an avid gardener and enjoyed spending time cultivating his rose bushes. John was also a very capable 'handy' man, having learned construction and carpentry skills as a young man on his holidays from university, working with his father and brothers Paul and Ernie on construction projects. One of his projects was 'finishing' the basement of the manse of the Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church, then occupied by the Reverend Gordon Beaton, so as to better accommodate Reverend Beaton's large family, recruiting his two elder sons and some of their friends as unskilled but willing-to-learn assistants. He also made numerous improvements to the family home. John was a charming and provocative dinner companion, very much enjoying lively exchanges, particular on Sunday evenings when guests often joined the family dinner table. Not culinary minded himself, nonetheless he counted as one of his regular achievements the perfectly barbecued T-bone steak.

Summer travels 'home' to Manitoba were an annual ritual, taking advantage of every means of transport available, first planes, then trains, then the family automobile. Perhaps nothing shaped the coming of summer more for the family, and expressed John and Jean's deep devotion to their extended families.

John was the absolute opposite of a snob, having what used to be called the 'common touch'. He was delighted to engage with servers, store clerks, mechanics, anyone really, often to the quiet trepidation of his children, thinking 'where is this going?' But it always turned out all right in the end, and taught his children lessons about our common humanity, and our necessary civic engagement with others.

John was blessed with an abiding Christian faith. He was an active congregant, and at times served as an Elder, of the Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church over a number of years.

He will be fondly remembered by all who were touched by his generosity, sense of humour, loyalty, and integrity.

Rest in peace.


Funeral service was held on Wednesday July 17, 2019 at St. Andrew’s Maple Cross Presbyterian Church, 1 Caroline St. W., in Creemore, ON.
See the original on-line obituary.


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