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Penny Smith

April 10, 2010|By MARLO BARNHART
  • Penny Smith is shown in this picture taken when she was a student at Cascade Elementary School.
Submitted photo,

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Penny Smith, who died March 29 at the age of 48. Her obituary was published in the April 3 edition of The Herald-Mail.

To some, Penny Smith was a mentally challenged woman who lived a limited life because of the hand she was dealt at the beginning of her 48 years.

But to others, Penny led a unique existence that touched many other lives both in her neighborhood and her beloved Pen Mar Park in Cascade.

It was a simple life, but a full one, said Teresa Coyle, Penny's lifelong friend. And Teresa was the first to admit there were many others besides her who were affected mightily by Penny's unique and uncomplicated perspective on the world.

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"We first met in school," Teresa said, referring to Cascade Elementary School. "Penny was very shy and tended to keep to herself."

Undaunted, Teresa -- who was two years older -- sought out Penny's company and gradually overcame the shyness to forge a friendship that continued and deepened throughout the women's lives.

"I wanted to be her friend ... she needed me," Teresa said. Once Penny warmed up, the two women spent a lot of time together, right up until her death March 29.

In the early days, Teresa said she and her family lived across the street from Sanders Market in Cascade. The owner often would pick up Penny and other Smith family members at their home to take them to and from the store.

"Penny and I would often see each other at the store," Teresa said.

Penny's late parents also led simple lives, Teresa said. Penny's father, Paul, worked at the Frick Co. in Pennsylvania, but never drove a car.

In 1983, Teresa and her husband, George, bought a home in Pen Mar that was just two blocks from Penny's childhood home -- a home she never left.

Early in Penny's life, Pen Mar Park became a focal point for the woman, both as a destination and just a reason to take long walks, Teresa said.

"Penny so loved the park and could always be seen walking there," Teresa said.

Bill Mills, a longtime park attendant, said Pen Mar Park won't be the same this year when it opens May 1 without Penny.

"Penny would be at the park at 10 a.m. every day," Bill said, noting the park is open seven days a week during the summer season. "She'd sit or walk around and then leave at closing time."

Bill said he often brought her a can of soda and a sandwich at lunchtime. Drawn to people and activities, Penny rarely missed a weekend dance or a wedding, he said.

"She would watch and talk to people ... she never had a bad word about anyone," Bill said. "Penny was a lovely person whom everyone liked."

Penny's mother and father died in the early 1990s, leaving Penny to share the family home with her brother, Paul, whom most called Rick, Teresa said. A sister, Paula Smith, earlier had moved to Hagerstown.

There also were Penny's two children, Teresa said, with whom she also was close despite the fact that one was placed in a group home and the other in foster care.

"She may have been unable to raise them, but she loved them," Teresa said.

Since the early 1990s, Teresa and Penny grew closer, partly out of their long association and friendship, but also because of need.

"She often came over and sought my help," Teresa said.

Penny also was a regular at the Coyle home for Sunday dinner and any other time she needed a meal and some company.

Teresa said she enjoyed treating Penny to experiences such as shopping and the delight of her first manicure.

"She always thanked me with a hug," Teresa said.

A memorial service was held Saturday at the United Brethren Church in Pen Mar. Earlier in the week, Teresa said she expected to see some people who knew Penny from the park at the service.

"I've already heard from some people in Virginia who came to the park often and got to know Penny," Teresa said earlier in the week.

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