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May 27, 2017
Paul Penn (1925-2015) honored by community
Posted On: May 11, 2015

BLOOMINGTON — The fruits of Paul Penn's labor can be seen throughout the community.

He helped organized the building of the World War II memorial on the east side of the McLean County Museum of History; together with the late "Dub" Sprague, helped build the American Legion baseball field at O'Neil Park; and got laborers together to provide about $500,000 in free labor at a former Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's School building to create new space for The Baby Fold — just to name a few.

"He had a big heart," said Mike Matejka, government affairs director at Great Plains Laborers District Council. "Anybody who needed help, he was there. He'd get a call from an agency needing new sidewalks, and he'd put together a group of workers."

Penn, 90, a more than 50-year member of Laborers Local 362, died at his home Thursday.

"He was a huge advocate of volunteering and community involvement," said Matejka.

Greg Koos, executive director of the McLean County Museum of History, remembers when he first met Penn when Penn and Jim Meek were overseeing the planned World War II memorial.

"Both were World War II veterans; one was in labor, one in management," said Koos. "I could see the deep respect (for the other) by each. That was the kind of thing Paul did; create a positive environment" between labor and contractors.

"He insisted on fairness and he showed fairness; the basis of trust. They could move forward together," Koos said.

Penn was among the first three recipients of the the history museum's "History Makers" designation that recognizes those who have made considerable contributions to the quality of life in McLean County.

He is credited for establishing a hiring hall for laborers and getting pension and medical plans for laborers.

"He worked to ensure they had a better life," said Koos.

Penn always was quick to give credit to laborers. When he received the History Makers award and was asked about his favorite accomplishments, he cited the work at O'Neil Park.

"The park was the best thing," he said. "I get all the glory, but they (the laborers) did all the work. What really helped me were the contractors in the area and the two universities." Students from Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities helped on the project while getting on-the-job training, he said.


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