GONZALES — Forrest Penney died on June 13 of this year but his memory lives on. Last week his family was honored at a small ceremony at a site that held much importance to him.
As Penney's wife, Sue, pointed out, her husband had two full careers. First was his stint in the United States Air Force, where he served in Vietnam flying 226 combat missions while being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He later flew for the U.S. Navy before retiring in 1989.
He graduated law school after retirement and began practicing in Gonzales in 1993. Sue joked that he was an “underachiever.”
One of Penney's lasting legacies was the construction of the Independence House just east of town. The housing development serves 24 Gonzales County households where the head-of-house suffers a chronic mental illness and meets low-income qualifications. The housing allows the members to live on their own and independently while they deal with their illness.
The project was awarded by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 1997. The grant was for $1.469 million and will be forgiven after providing housing for 40 years. Penney was one of the initial committee members who won the award for Gonzales.
Independence House Property Manager Brad Prak noted that Penney served on the board of directors for the property up until his death, and never missed a meeting in 20 years until the end.
He served as president and secretary numerous times and the property always scored well in HUD inspections, Prak said.
“Forrest focused our efforts on helping serve our residents, that no one was left out of the process,” Prak said. “He believed in the mission of the property, helping those who just need a hand up to live a better quality of life. We have had many resident who were able to raise their children in our safe, clean, and affordable apartments as a result.
“It's part of his life story, serving both the country and its citizens. Forrest was never one to be front and center, preferring to operate quietly from backstage. He often assisted us or members of the community with legal questions in his capacity as an attorney in town.
“As a board, we have felt a deep sense of loss for a friend, mentor and community elder and a palpable absence without him on our board.”
Penney's daughter and son-in-law, Lori and Brad Sandifer, were also at the marker dedication. She echoed many of the sentiments expressed by others for her father.
“He was a quiet man but he wanted to make sure people were taken care of and help where help was needed,” she said.
“It's a wonderful honor,” added Sue. “He certainly tried. He always wanted to help if he could.”