University of North Dakota Faculty/Staff Newsletter

Remembering James Penwarden

James Penwarden

James Penwarden

James Penwarden, retired Director of University Relations, died Jan. 21 after a four-month struggle with lung cancer. He was 69.

He was a private man who hleped shape the public face of UND for four decades.  Penwarden helped to develop a number of UND symbols, including the flame logo that has identified the University since its centennial in 1983 and the "geometric" Indian head logo that identified UND athletics for more than 20 years and won a national design award.

He was part of UND’s communications team for much of his 40-plus years with the university, supervising design and production of nearly 5,000 publications, editing nearly 1,000 issues of UND’s newsletter, and writing hundreds of news releases.

Comments from co-workers and family:

“Jim was a remarkable professional communicator who combined creativity with intensity and focus in getting the job done,” said Dave Vorland, who worked with him for most of their UND careers and retired on the same day in 2005.

“He was respected by the faculty as well as the administration, which allowed him to make important contributions in the advancement of the university.”

Penwarden’s twin sister, Mary Jean Johannes of Spooner, Wis., said she sensed “something was wrong with Jimmy” before he told the family about the cancer diagnosis in September.

“I’ve always felt the twin bond, something there in our relationship that I knew was special,” she said.

“He was my confidante. He was humble, never pompous or with an ego about anything. But sometimes, you just wondered what was going to come out of his mouth next. Watching him with the nurses, you could see he had a unique relationship with them. At first, they didn’t know how to take him, but a couple of them really responded to him and liked him.”

As news of his death spread, friends and former colleagues offered tributes on Facebook, calling Penwarden a gentle and kind man, a fine writer and storyteller, and a joy to work with.

Many also were surprised to learn that he had been fighting cancer — but not that he had tried to keep his troubles to himself.

“He was a private man,” more than a few of his friends observed.

“He was always there for us if we needed him,” said his younger sister, June Ann Lawrence, Detroit Lakes, Minn. “He was a very private person in ways, but he was always there for us. He had a quick wit, but he also had a really gentle heart.”

Peter Johnson, now executive associate vice president for university relations, worked for Penwarden for several years.

“We were together just about 24/7 during the Flood of 1997 and the days that followed,” he said. “We lived up in the facilities building on campus — slept there, worked there and ate there.

“I was impressed not only by his professionalism and dedication to the university but also by his ability to think things through and his real, deep concern for other people. He was a consummate professional communicator who probably didn’t get the credit he deserved because he did it quietly.”

Johnson said that in the hours after he heard of Penwarden’s passing, “countless people have told me stories about how he helped them through some adversity.”

Penwarden was born Oct. 31, 1942, in Grand Forks and graduated from St. James High School in 1960. He entered UND, majoring in journalism, and worked at the Dakota Student newspaper, serving as editor his senior year.

In 1964, a year before receiving his degree in journalism, Penwarden was named assistant director in the UND News Bureau (later Office of University Relations). In 1965, he worked as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald and the East Grand Forks Record. That fall, he also became a lecturer in journalism, a position he held for one year.

In 1968, Penwarden left for New Mexico State University, where he served as chief news writer while pursuing a graduate degree. He returned to UND in 1970 as publications coordinator. He later held several top positions in university relations until he retired in October 2005.

He is survived by his daughter, Jill (Harry) Winters, Frisco, Texas; a twin sister, Mary Jean (Stan) Johannes, Spooner, Wisc.; a sister, June Ann (Gene) Lawrence, Detroit Lakes, Minn.; a granddaughter, Ava Winters; several nieces and nephews; great nieces and great-nephews; and his "Sweetie," Jan Wiley, Fargo.

He was preceded in death by his parents.

The Mass of Christian Burial is set for 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, at St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Grand Forks.  Visitation is 5 to 7 p.m. Friday with a 7 p.m. vigil service in the Gregory J. Norman Funeral Chapel.  Visitation will continue for one hour prior to the liturgy in the church on Saturday.  Burial will be at Calvary Cemetery North, Grand Forks, in the spring.

Memorials may be sent to the UND Foundation, 3100 University Ave., Grand Forks, ND, 58202-8157, with the memo section of the check or an attached note designating "To benefit the UND Office of University Relations in memory of Jim Penwarden."

-- Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald.

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