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There are some days it’s just not easy to get out of bed let alone find the motivation to work. Feeling behind in every aspect of life in the last few days, I wasn’t feeling too confident …
There are some days it’s just not easy to get out of bed let alone find the motivation to work. Feeling behind in every aspect of life in the last few days, I wasn’t feeling too confident in putting together this week’s retrospect on McKenzie. After arriving somewhat early to work, I opened my email to find a forwarded message from Jenny Garner in Georgia.
Well, the name didn’t ring a bell, and I wasn’t quite sure why she was referencing a conversation between Charlene Jones and my father-in-law. Eventually, I opened the attachment and began slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together. The email was about Charlie Penick and family, who owned a funeral home in town many years ago.
Over the last few years, I have seen a few pictures of Penick Funeral Home, but I was still curious how Charlene Jones fit into the equation. Then I began looking at the pictures and the light bulb finally went off, Charlie Penick was her father...well the last horse finally crossed the finish line. So this week’s article focuses on Charlie Penick and Penick Funeral Home.
Elijah Charles (Charlie) Penick was born on February 4, 1895, in Manleyville, Henry County, Tenn. to Elijah Warren (Lige) and Mary (Mollie) Witt Walters. He had two older sisters, Eliza and Mary, one older brother, John and one younger brother, William. By April of 1910, three more brothers were born. Both sisters were teaching school and the older boys were laborers on the farm. When Charlie became school age, he attended Manleyville school.
At the age of 22, Charlie registered for World War I draft in June 1917 but was never called to serve in the war. According to his draft registration, he was living at home and farming. He described himself as a farmer, self- employed, no one dependent on him for support, claimed no exemption and no disabilities. Older brother John served his military service in France. Younger brother Will served only two months before the war ended.
In September 1918, Charlie and his younger brother, Will, bought two tracts of land in Henry County for $1,000. One tract was the George Atchison home place of 150 acres and the second was 44.82 adjoining acres next to the Redmon place. In 1943, Charlie bought Will’s part of this land.
Charlie was known for leading the singing at church, it is assumed that the church was Poplar Grove Methodist Church which was close to their home where Lige had been a member for 20 years. Charlie loved to lead the old fashioned “singings,” especially his favorite song, “O Come, O Come, Angel Band.”
Charlie taught school in Manleyville, for several years. He and siblings Eliza, Mary and John all taught at that school at varying times. By July of 1924, it was time for a change as he enrolled in the Gupton-Jones School of Embalming in Nashville.
After graduating in1925, he began working for J. A. Shipley and Company, and later for Spicer Funeral Home in Paris, Tenn. He moved from Manleyville to McKenzie in 1926 and lived in the Virginia Hotel in downtown McKenzie. Even though he chose a career as an undertaker, he continued to engage in farming.
In January 1925, Charlie was working for the Scates Undertaking Company, and purchased the business later that year. The funeral home located on Broadway Street currently occupied by Williams Furniture. It was renamed Penick Funeral Home and two years later was moved to Cedar Street to the site of what later became McCadams Implement Company (behind what was JT’s Grill).
His brother Joe followed in Charlie’s footsteps attending Gupton-Jones. He joined Charlie in the business for 10 years. It was then known as Penick Brothers Undertaking Company. When Charlie bought Scates Undertaking Company, a hearse dating back to the 1800s came with the business. He kept the hearse when he sold the Penick Funeral Home to Jack Brummitt in 1945.
The old hearse was brought out of retirement in 1969 when McKenzie celebrated its centennial. An employee at a New York funeral home told his employer, Frank Guido, of the old hearse he heard about in the parade. Guido then contacted Charlie in June 1970 and asked him how much he would take for it. Penick said $1,500 and the deal was done. The transportation charge for the hearse was well over $500.
When Charlie first bought the funeral home it was adjacent to Argo Shoe Shop. Mrs. Argo heated the business with a pot-bellied stove. One cold morning Charlie walked into her shop to see her tearing pages from an old Scates Funeral Home book to start her fire.
He helped her get the fire started and told her he would be back. He immediately cut down a tree, chopped the wood for her stove, and traded the wood for the remaining funeral home books. They are now the only extant books from the Scates Funeral Home and are housed in the vault at the Gordon Browning Museum.
Charlie was Scoutmaster to many boys in McKenzie. Penick Funeral home was the local hangout for the boys who conducted a weekly clean-up of the place, answered the phone for ambulance calls riding with him on many of those calls, and accompanying him to Illinois to pick up a new ambulance. Three of those boys were David McClure, Kermit Holland and Guy Robert Kirk.
Charlie and Joe were single businessmen for many years and were considered to be quite a catch in McKenzie. Charlie kept small diaries of his ambulance calls, funerals, as well as his various courtships. He usually identified his courtships by initials one such set of initials belonged to Betty Lou McDonald, who would later become his wife. The 1930 population census for McKenzie recorded Charlie living as a lodger on Pine Street in McKenzie in the home of Albert Dye and family. In addition to the family of three, seven lodgers shared the home. Charlie was age 35, single, in the business of funeral director with the occupation of an embalmer.
Look for the conclusion of this article next week.
Jason R. Martin
B.S. • M.A.Ed • MLS
Councilman, Ward II
Rotary Dist. 6760, Asst. Governor
WestStar Class of 2019
Jason Martin is a life-long resident of McKenzie. He graduated from McKenzie High School in 2000; earned a Bachelor of Science in History from Bethel College in 2004; a Masters in Education from Bethel University in 2009 and a Masters in History and Humanities from Fort Hays State University in 2011.