Karin Penner’s impact celebrated in retirement
Cranbrook’s matriarch was celebrated with much affection, sincerity and good humour Nov. 28.
People came from as far away as Toronto and Calgary to help Cranbrook and District Chamber of Commerce members and city residents bid a fond adieu to the woman who has been the anchor of the city’s business community for more than three decades.
Elected officials, former chamber presidents, current chamber members and many friends and family members filled the conference room at the Heritage Inn to thank Karin Penner for the indelible mark she’s left on Cranbrook during the 31 years that she has been executive director of the chamber.
Kootenay East MLA and former chamber president Bill Bennett noted how his time with the chamber and his tutelage under Penner prepared him for his career in provincial politics.
“You are a rock for our community, always at the ready to make Cranbrook a better, more charitable and livable place,” he stated.
Numerous former chamber presidents commented on Karin’s passion and commitment to the chamber, to the BC Chamber of Commerce, the city and especially to the Sam Steele Sweetheart program.
“You have played an incredibly important role both in Cranbrook and across the province. Best wishes and Karin from all of us here at the BC Chamber,” wrote John Winter, president of the BC Chamber of Commerce (BCCC).
“Karin has been a great inspiration and mentor. I was truly blessed the day I met Karin,” noted Maureen Czirfusz, president of the BC Chamber Executives.
“You are my hero; an inspiration to chamber managers throughout the province,” added Ros Castledon of the BCCC.
“As Mother Teresa said, ‘I along cannot change the world but I cancast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.’ Your actions, dedication and commitment have enriched so many lives,” said former chamber president and evening co-emcee Jason Wheeldon.
“Over the years Karin has worked tirelessly for businesses in our city, ensuring that our voices are heard and is always professional and thoughtful in her dealing with everyone,” said outgoing City of Cranbrook Councillor and past chamber president Denise Pallesen.
“Your leadership has not just benefitted business and individuals, but has strengthened the community as a whole,” said former chamber president Jeannette Sissons. “We have shared serious, thoughtful moments, laughter and humour and, stared down challenges, celebrated successes and built relationships together. Your door is always open and I thank you for all you have given so freely.”
Dennis Opinko, chamber president in 1999, who made an arduous trek to Cranbrook from Calgary that day/evening to attend the celebration, stated, “No chamber contributes more to their community than Cranbrook. I believe that is the case because of your steady hand at the office and the great team you lead.”
“You deserve each accolade you receive this day and I join with all the other voices who to say congratulations,” said former chamber president Deb Saffin.
Pat de Sa, chamber president in 1982, stated, “you are the backbone of the organization. You are an exceptional manager and I am honoured to have had the opportunity to work with you as president and chair of the Building Committee.”
Melanie Fiorentino, president in 2003, shared, “Your guidance and support were invaluable to me. Your love and belief in our community is second to none.”
Austin Parisien, president in 2005 added, “Without your guidance and leadership many of the accomplishments of this great chamber would not have been achieved. Congratulations. You are a true and constant pillar to this community.”
Outgoing Mayor Wayne Stetski also thanked Penner for her contributions to the city, noting her passion and consistency.
Several former mayors and elected officials also shared their best wishes.
“You have been a good and faithful servant of the Cranbrook community. I know that you are well loved and respected by everyone who has ever had the pleasure of working with you,” wrote Mike and Cathy Patterson.
“The continued positive presence of the business community in our city speaks volumes to the degree of your success as chamber manager,” said Ross Priest. “The chamber and the City of Cranbrook are indeed fortunate.”
“Karin, your lasting contribution to the fabric of this community can never fully be appreciated nor repaid. It is a testament to your character and spirit of giving that has seen the growth of the chamber over your years of management and it is the legacy that will always be the foundation of the business community in the City of Cranbrook,” wrote Scott and Raeleen Manjak.
An example of Penner’s impact on the chamber, Wheeldon pointed out, is the growth in popularity of the chamber business luncheons. The first one ever held, about 30 or so years ago, had five people in attendance, including Karin and the guest speaker, he said. The luncheons are now more often than not sold out, with 150 to 200 members attending each one.
Former City Councillor and long-standing volunteer Jim Wavrecan noted, “Karin has helped to steer leaders. Her fingerprints are on monuments, policies and procedures. Most important, through her example and programs, Karin has played a large part in the creation of the leaders of tomorrow.”
Of course, Chums of the Chamber chimed in, too.
“Karin has always managed whatever her charge with complete diplomacy, dignity, pride and love,” shared Carol and Larry York.
Another notable moment in the evening came via a video created by Penner’s friend and chamber volunteer extreme Nella Rounsville and one of Karin’s many protégés, Loree Duczek. Neither could attend the Friday evening celebration due to out-of-town commitments but their video humorously and eloquently outlined the impact the outgoing chamber manager has had on their lives.
Wheeldon and D’Arcy Kennedy served as emcees for the evening, often straying from “the script,” a theme dotted through the evening, in reference to Penner’s long-standing demands from chamber presidents to “stick to the script.”
Perhaps most touching of all were the sometimes emotional words expressed by “the chamber chicks,” Karin’s co-workers who all expressed warm, loving sentiments; a testament to the boss and person Penner has been.