Engaged and engaging. That’s the way I sized up Judy Penman when I met her, briefly, at a local event many years ago. And from a distance I saw that she walked tall during her 29 years living in the Santa Clarita Valley, making an indelible mark as the quintessential volunteer.
No one can accuse Judy of having commitment issues. On top of a marriage of nearly 50 years, she’s logged 27 years in the Zonta Club of SCV and spent 20 years as a Boys & Girls Club volunteer.
And Judy is no spectator. She has been president for three terms in both the Zonta Club and on the Circle of Hope Board, and she served on the board of directors for the SCV Raiders Booster Club, the Domestic Violence Center of Santa Clarita Valley and WiSH Education Foundation.
She wasn’t about to miss the entertainment, either. When the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center opened its doors at College of the Canyons, Judy jumped in as a volunteer there, too, where she told me she had “lots of fun taking tickets, seating guests and working the events.”
You could also find her at Cocktails on the Roof, sitting with her friends and welcoming guests for the WiSH Education Foundation. There were also events for the Assistance League, where she was research development and philanthropic chair.
“I was lucky to work with the Culinary Arts students preparing food for Sunset in the Vineyard for four years,” she said. “A lot of fun and great members to work with.”
Judy and her husband, Doug, were volunteer “ranch hands” for the Cowboy Festival for a quarter of a century, where she got them involved for nostalgic reasons. In the festival’s early years, it was held at Melody Ranch in Newhall, a filming venue once owned by Gene Autry.
“When I grew up, I’d come home and do my homework and listen to Gene Autry from the Melody Ranch,” she told me during an interview a few years ago. “It’s one of our very favorite events and we look forward to it every year. … We leave our cell phones in our car. We can look at each other in the eye and just enjoy the day.”
But if Judy sounds like a party girl, it’s definitely not the entire tale. In her career, she developed and started outreach for the California Department of Insurance in the 1980s, she said, as the first female to work in the consumer division for the agency. Of course, she also applied her professional skills to more volunteer work, offering free Medicare counseling through the SCV Senior Center.
“(I was) helping people new to Medicare learn about Parts A, B and D, the difference between an HMO and PPO,” she said. “It was great when you saw the look on someone’s face who understood how Medicare works.”
Judy’s friendly personality has clearly had an impact on those around her.
“I have known Judy for over 20 years as fellow Zonta Club of Santa Clarita Valley members,” said local resident Phyllis Walker. “Her selfless caring about the well-being of others has been evident over the years with her support in the community and continued involvement with nonprofit organizations. She has helped to make our community the great place it is!”
Other club members must agree, as they named Judy “2019 Zontian of the Year.” The winner is selected for leadership within Zonta and the way the nominee represents the club in the community.
Her award is a kind of parting gift, sadly, as she and Doug moved to Arizona recently. And this time it’s in service to family.
“Judy is the epitome of volunteerism,” said Gloria Mercado-Fortine. “Her enthusiasm, leadership and caring spirit will be sorely missed. Judy leaves a big hole in Santa Clarita. I will miss my ZONTA sister!”
Fellow Zontian Pat Willett commented as well.
“Judy is absolutely fantastic, and she’ll certainly be missed in the SCV,” Pat said. “She knows everyone and has volunteered for every nonprofit in the valley. I hope she’s able to stay as active in Arizona.”
You can bet she will, because Judy earns recognition wherever she goes. She was SCV Woman of the Year in 2008, and the year before that she was named Outstanding Volunteer of the Year by the SCV Boys & Girls Club. Even Los Angeles County acknowledged her for her many years of volunteer service.
Judy Penman cast a long shadow – in the positive sense. Whether she visits a little or a lot from now on, her energy, efforts and generous spirit will have an impact on our community for years to come.
Martha Michael is a contributing writer for The Signal.