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Biography for September

Meet Mary Penner…By Bren Short

Mary Penner, a long-time resident of New Tecumseth, is a retired educator and social worker with a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in psychology. 

She was born in Calgary, Alberta just as a dangerous virus broke out in the hospital’s neo-natal ward. 

Mary was fortunate and didn’t catch the virus, but many babies did and most of them died.  She remained in quarantine for two months before her parents could finally take her home. 

Over the next few years, the family moved several times, finally settling in Montreal.  She remembers a happy childhood with loving parents and playing outside with other children, tag, hide-and-seek, etc.

She always got along well with the other children, but there was one neighbourhood girl that constantly bullied Mary, harassing her and calling her names.  This culminated in a standoff one day and as they faced each other, the girl tore off Mary’s eyeglasses and stomped on them.  Mary saw red and although she thought she might do the same to the other girl, something held her back.  Eyeglasses were expensive.  A couple of punches were thrown, but the fight ended abruptly when Mary punched the other girl on the nose.  Now all that was left was to go home with the broken glasses and try to explain to her parents.

She was never bullied from that day on and even to this day, Mary abhors bullying.  Recently, she and her husband trapped an aggressive red squirrel who was harassing all the other neighbourhood squirrels.  They relocated the rodent along with his food supply, and thus brought calm to their backyard community.  She details both events in her amusing story titled “Seeing Red” which can be found on writingblog.ca in the archives.

Mary began work at fifteen in Eaton’s department store, and later worked for Bell Canada. During her time there, she joined their baseball team, “Al’s Gals” as the pitcher.  By this time, she was giving money to her parents but saving the rest to pay for her education.  She wanted to become a teacher. 

She taught for her first two years in a small school in a poor district of Montreal, married in 1968, and continued teaching grade five.  One of her young students was troublesome, always a handful, but he pleasantly surprised Mary when he turned up at the church where she was being married.  He had traveled over ten kilometers to the church with another student, just so that he could be there at her wedding.

During the next five years, she had a son and a daughter and became a stay-at-home mom, moving to Toronto to study part-time at Ryerson Collegiate and follow her dream to become a social worker. Over the next while, she worked on a bachelor’s degree in social work and then went on to the University of Toronto to attain a master’s degree in psychology, all this while raising her family.  She also developed a course for adult education called Program Planning and taught it each summer at Ryerson.

Writing as a pastime was always there in the background, but Mary was busy studying for her master’s degree which took priority.  After gaining her degree, Mary took a job in family therapy at Markham Stouffville Family Life Centre.  She worked with them for seven years, eventually promoted to the position of supervisor.

When the family moved to Alliston, Mary was offered a position with Simcoe County District School Board as Attendance Counsellor, responsible for visiting family homes, when children didn’t attend school, and trying to assist with any problems that were preventing their attendance.  All of the different positions that she held had their own rewards, but one of the most heart-warming stories was when an individual contacted her at a later time, telling Mary how she had changed her life, and that she had paid forward this encouragement and confidence to other people.  Eventually, Mary retired from her long and varied career and never looked back.  She had many projects in mind to keep her busy.

Mary has had many hobbies over the years.  Some began when she was as young as five years old.  She had begun to write greeting cards and messages as most children do, and her father kept all of them. Mary loved rhyming from that tender age and eventually began to write poetry.  She also had a keen interest in painting and so while she was raising her children, she took art classes.

Her house stands on a large, secluded property that includes trees, walkways, and riverside access for long, lazy days of fishing or just floating along with the current in an old rowing boat.  Home to many creatures, her backyard is often an inspiration for Mary’s poetry and story writing. Another passion of hers is photography, capturing interesting images of the flora and fauna just outside her back door. She also enjoys entertaining friends, with her dear husband Dave, and sharing all that her extensive property has to offer.

For the last thirty-seven years, Mary has continued to meet with a group of women that she met through a newcomers’ organization in Markham.  These women formed a bridge group at the time and are still close friends, getting together now and then.  She was a former member of Probus Alliston and was acting secretary for a term – quite a learning experience.

Mary is now a longstanding member of the SSAC Wordsmiths writing group in New Tecumseth and also the more recently created Alliston Library Poetry Circle.  Mary has published many poems and short stories on social media. She has published in magazines and newspapers, including Focus 50+, Briar Crier, and South Simcoe Arts Council to name a few, and has recently published a collection of her poetry entitled “Have a Slice”.  At present, she is busy compiling the second book which may be titled, “Have Another Slice”. 

She has been involved in Arts Talk for South Simcoe Arts Council and has been an audience prompter in June Chamber’s play, called “Saving Grace”, prompting audience response…lots of fun!  She has adjudicated for SSAC in their writing competitions and also a poetry competition for Short’s Shorts.

When I asked Mary for her advice to writers embarking on their journey, she replied, “Enjoy the challenge. If it’s a chore, don’t do it.  Also, don’t convince yourself that you’re going to write the novel that will sell a million copies like Michael Connolly or Steven King.  Be realistic.  I set my sights on something that’s realistic for me and that’s where I begin.  Write what you know.” 

Mary took up aromatherapy twenty-five years ago and makes her own soaps, creams, room sprays, etc.  Her flawless skin is a testament to the efficacy of her products.  She believes that you should always challenge yourself, and recently, Mary’s goal has been to write more short stories.  She’s comfortable with her poetry and is discovering with short story writing that the more she tries, the easier it becomes to use her imagination and build a web of dreams.

You’ll find a good selection of Mary’s work in the archives of writingblog.ca


In Other News …


New Tecumseth Public Library


Wordsmiths

Wordsmiths writers’ group continues to meet on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month from 1 – 3 pm.

The first meeting of the month is held over Zoom and the second meeting is held in the WI room of the Alliston library.

For more information, please contact Kim at kimburgess@ntpl.ca or Dian at dianandgary@gmail.com

Image via Pexels

Dates for September are :
Tuesday, September 6th. 1 pm via Zoom and Tuesday, September 20th. 1 pm in the WI room at Alliston Library.

Challenges for September, if you want a theme:

  1. Write a story incorporating the end of summer or the beginning of fall.
  2. Perhaps imagine you are an animal preparing for winter.

Poetry Group

Calling all poets!

The NTPL Poetry Group continues to meet on the third Thursday of each month from 2 – 3:30 pm.

Join our Zoom program to share and discuss traditional written or spoken word poetry. Share your own or bring an old favourite. Listeners are welcome too. Register online, or contact Kim Burgess.

Next meeting is Thurs, September 15th at 2 pm. via Zoom

Challenge for September:

Write a poem about reconciliation.


Creative Works Writing Competition

The South Simcoe Arts Council is launching their seventh annual writing competition, Creative Works on October 1st, 2022.  This competition is open to all residents of South Simcoe, for amateur writers, from eight years and up.  Every entry receives written feedback from professional authors, and winners receive cash prizes.

“It was an amazing experience,” one writer commented last year, upon learning that they had placed among the winners.  “I really appreciate your encouragement,” another competitor acknowledged when referring to the constructive feedback given to all entrants.

There are child, youth, and adult entry categories for both Short Story and poetry genres. Within the Short Story category, there are both individual and Collaborative classes, as well as a Challenge class.

Collaborative Writing is a story written by two or three writers, judged on how well the authors blend their writing styles and ideas in one cohesive short story. 

Challenge Class stories are written on a theme chosen by the Creative Works Committee. The theme should be an integral part of the plot.  For instance, last year’s challenge was – “A Strange Request at a Piano Bar”.

““I’m delighted my story was chosen as a winner.  Any support or influence I receive makes me feel more confident and motivated to continue…” declared another winner.

Details about the competition will be available after September 15th. on the SSAC website. https://southsimcoeartscouncil.com/exhibits-events/writing-contest

Registration opens on October 4th, 2022.