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Jim Penny (1927 – 2023)

Jim Penny

With heavy hearts, members of Lethbridge & District Exhibition mourn the passing of Jim Penny, who served as President of Lethbridge & District Exhibition from 1985 to 1986. Jim was a true champion for the Exhibition who believed in the vision that we could grow, adapt, and be a leader in agriculture not just in Southern Alberta, but for people from around the world.

Joining the board in 1973, Jim was an active participant with the Exhibition for two decades, and he never stopped supporting us throughout his lifetime. It was under his watch that the Exhibition expanded to build the North Pavilion and found new ways of doing business during a time when traditional funding methods disappeared. To me, he in many ways paved the way for the organization we have become.

A former coal miner in Saskatchewan, Jim became a successful businessman in both the restaurant and furniture businesses; operated a ranch in Pincher Creek; and gave back to his community in countless ways.

In his own words, Jim once said, “I enjoyed the Exhibition because I felt it made a contribution to the Southern Alberta Community.”

I, and the entire Lethbridge & District Exhibition, will miss Jim immensely and will cherish the spirit and guidance he provided. Flags at Lethbridge & District Exhibition have been lowered to half-mast in his honour. Mike Warkentin Lethbridge & District CEO

Learn more about Jim Penny in this story, re-printed from People of the Exhibition, authored by Garry Allison in 2007.

If you ask Jim Penny what he remembers most about his association with the Lethbridge and District Exhibition, from 1973 to 1992, it will centre on rodeo.

“I enjoyed the Exhibition because I felt it made a contribution to the Southern Alberta community,” says Jim. “The Exhibition brings a lot of business into town, for motels and food outlets for example. I enjoyed being part of that contribution.

“I also enjoyed my association with the rodeo. But I guess you could say of me, that I put on one of the best rodeos the Exhibition has seen, and one of the worst.”

The best had to be the Rodeo of Rodeos in the late 1980s, where the top contestants from the top amateur circuits in Western Canada and the Northwest United States gathered to compete for a $5,000 jackpot purse in each event – similar to the Calgary Stampede format.

The fans jammed the Exhibition grandstand and, as Greg Kesler the stock contractor told Jim, it was a super rodeo. But a repeat was not to be due to a breakdown in negotiations and a short time later Jim found himself engineering the worst rodeo performance the Exhibition had ever seen, an Oldtimers Rodeo, which Jim was talked into by cowboys like an aging Benny Reynolds.

“No doubt that Oldtimers Rodeo was a flop,” Jim says with a laugh, “But I always believe, when you lay an egg, step over it and get on with your life.” Jim, born in Macoun, Sask. in 1927, was introduced to the Exhibition by Cleve Hill. “When Cleve asked me to run for the Exhibition Board he told me there’d only be one meeting a month… and believed him.” Jim went onto the Board in 1973 and served as President of the Exhibition in 1985 and 1986. He remained active with the Ex until about 1992 when he decided it was time to walk away.

It was during this era when grants were rare and spending was being cut.

“We were fighting the law of diminishing returns and we kind of hit the wall,” Jim says. “To generate money I wanted to charge for parking at things like Ag Expo and other events, but that wasn’t very popular. We did build the North Pavilion during my time though.

“I enjoyed the cattle shows we held, and I think those shows and sales made a real contribution to the agricultural industry of Southern Alberta.”

Jim didn’t arrive in Lethbridge until 1968, starting life as a coal miner at Estevan, just 17 miles from Macoun and its 120 people.

“I started to work for the coal mines about the middle of the war years. There was a big coal industry around there and we were allowed to go into the mines at age 16 due to the war. It was a big thing for a kid, when you never had a nickle and suddenly you were earning a dollar an hour. I never went back to school.”

At age 25, and married, Jim left the mines and built one of the first Dairy Queens in Canada. In 1957, Jim and Hazel left Estevan and moved to Medicine Hat and opened a Dairy Queen and an A&W. Next move was east, to the Ottawa valley, where he developed an A&W. But when the mammoth main company changed hands, Jim moved his family to Lethbridge, becoming partners in Capitol Furniture.

He stayed in the furniture business for about 20 years before opening a Taco Time in Lethbridge in 1978. It soon became so successful he left the furniture business entirely.

“These things just evolved,” he says. “The timing was good and they just worked out well. I had a lot of opportunities handed to me with these, at the time, young franchises.”

Jim also operated a ranch in the Pincher Creek area, but in 1993 he retired, sold the ranch and watched with pride as his daughter Aarol and her husband assumed control of Taco Time, moving the head office to Calgary.

Hazel and Jim have three grandchildren, and two children, Aarol, and Foster. Foster was in the medical profession in Ontario when he passed away from Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

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