Pennings earn farm family honor

WILMONT -- The John and Carolyn Penning family of rural Wilmont has been selected as the 2008 Nobles County Farm Family of the Year. They will join families from around the state for a recognition ceremony Aug. 7, at Farmfest in Redwood County.

WILMONT -- The John and Carolyn Penning family of rural Wilmont has been selected as the 2008 Nobles County Farm Family of the Year. They will join families from around the state for a recognition ceremony Aug. 7, at Farmfest in Redwood County.

The Pennings have a long history in farming, John in Summit Lake Township where both his father and grandfather farmed, and Carolyn about eight miles to the north, near the small town of Iona. Today, two of their five children have partnered to carry on the farm family tradition, representing the fourth generation of Penning farmers in Nobles County.

For John, returning to his farming roots was never questioned. He came home from a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1969, and by the fall of 1970, had joined forces with his dad, Clarence. Together they worked through one crop year before Clarence died in the winter of 1971.

As one of eight children and the oldest of four boys, John drew his younger brothers into partnership -- Tony, who died of multiple myeloma in 2002, and Tom and Rick, who remain vital to the Penning Brothers operation today. Since 1974, their partnership has grown from custom farming services to crop, beef cattle and pork production.

"We always worked together, we did a lot of custom work," said John, adding that they shelled corn, cut hay and combined for farmers in the area. As time went on, they began purchasing land in partnership.


John and Carolyn were married in 1977 and raised five children -- daughter Coreen (Kent) Slater and their four children of rural Rushmore, Angela (Bobbie) Ferguson and their four children of Sanger, Texas, Greg (Linda) Penning and their four children of Las Vegas, Nev., Brian (Angela) Penning and their four children of rural Wilmont and Russ (Melanie) Penning of rural Rushmore. Also considered a member of the family is the son of one of John's cousins, Mike Hoffman, who moved in with the Pennings when he was 6. Hoffman and his wife, Erin, now reside in Rushmore with their two children.

"All of our kids worked (on the farm)," said Carolyn. "They cleaned out crates, hauled manure, walked beans...."

For about 11 years, beginning in 1982, the couple also served as foster parents in Nobles County.

"As all the offspring started arriving here, we kind of gave that up," said John.

The youngest two of the Penning children, Brian and Russ, both opted to farm after college. Today, they are in partnership in a dairy heifer calf rearing business. They get calves at one day old and feed them up to about 200 pounds. According to John, it's a labor-intensive business that includes pail feeding calves until they are several weeks old. Hoffman helps the brothers in the business.

The calves are reared at two of the Penning farms, including John and Carolyn's home place, where grower barns once used for swine production were converted to pens suitable for raising calves.

To see two of their children come back to farm has been exciting for the elder Pennings.

"It's nice. It's a dream come true to have them involved," said John.


"You see that what you built up is going to keep on going," added Carolyn.

The biggest challenge now, as John and his brothers get older, is passing on the operation to the next generation.

"When you own something four ways, handing it down to the next generation is difficult," said Carolyn. "The trick is learning how to pass it down."

"When you look at dividing it up, it's a challenge," John added.

As for retirement, John said he has no plans to hang up his farm cap anytime soon.

Between the Penning Bros. partnership, the partnership between Brian and Russ and then farming individually as well, the Penning family never looks far to find work to do.

Even when their own children were growing up, John said the kids learned never to say they were bored.

There's more to life than farm work, though, and John and Carolyn both have spent their share volunteering in their church and community. John is a former member of the Wilmont Co-op Elevator and Five-Star boards, and once served on the Farmers Home Administration committee. Today he serves on the Co-op Energy Board, and has been a member of the Wilmont VFW Post No. 2603 since he returned from Vietnam.


Carolyn is retired from church work, and was honored with the Bishop's Medal in May for 27 years of service. She is secretary of the Council of Catholic Women, and heads the quilting group at church. She also serves on the Wilmont VFW Auxiliary, is the bookkeeper for Penning Bros., and cares for grandchildren two to three days per week.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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