, 2014

Bill Pennell feted by friends

by Audrey Thomasson

WICOMICO CHURCH-An apparent tornado tore a path of destruction Monday near Wicomico Church, snapping dozens of large trees and destroying two manufactured homes on Bogey Neck Road.

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Local officials credited Bill Pennell with the evolution of the county's judicial center from concept to the dedication of the completed facility.

LANCASTER—They called him teacher, leader, best boss and mentor. And at last week’s send-off for retiring county administrator William H. Pennell, Jr., they all called him their friend.

Supervisors, constitutional officers, judges, county employees and community and business leaders praised Pennell for 20 years of serving the county.

Board chairman Wally Beauchamp presided over the Friday afternoon ceremony at the Lancaster Middle School Theater.

“There is one thing that is a lasting memorial to you in Lancaster County, and that’s that courthouse,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Jeffers Schmidt. Pennell was the driving force behind the acquisition of land and construction of the new judicial center, which was completed ahead of schedule and below budget. “It will last 150 years as a memorial to you,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt, like many others, praised Pennell for understanding the needs of all the county employees and constitutional officers and the need for public safety.

Assistant county administrator Jack Larson said Pennell hired him for planning and land use, although he had no prior experience in that area. “He was my teacher...and a great leader...Bill always said ‘Do your job. You’ll make mistakes...but pick yourself up and go on.’ He always supported me in my work and my personal life.”

County Treasurer Bonnie Haynie credited her former boss for building her self-confidence so that she was able to move her career forward and run for Treasurer. “He’s the best boss,” she said tearfully.

Sheriff Ronnie Crockett said Pennell’s former career as a police officer in Alexandria had its advantages and disadvantages.

“It was an advantage when I asked for things I needed. But it was a disadvantage when I asked for things I really wanted,” said Crockett.

Supervisor Dr. Jack Russell (left) and Bill Pennell share words of retirement wisdom. Photo by Robert Mason Jr.

Juvenile and Family Court Judge Mike McKinney said he and Pennell are from an era “when public service was an opportunity to make a difference.” However, he said the state government’s tendency in recent years to casually hand down more responsibilities and financial burdens to local government “...is making jobs like Commonwealth’s Attorney and County Administrator that much more difficult.”

Judge McKinney said his long relationship with Pennell was more than professional, noting they are also friends.

Pennell’s replacement as county administrator, Frank Pleva, said he has admired Pennell for many of his own 32 years serving in local government posts. But the best part was working side-by-side with Pennell for the past two weeks, he added.

Pennell said his relationship with Lancaster County and its residents began when he was working for the Alexandria Police Department and bringing boys to the department’s summer camp at the end of Boys Camp Road outside Kilmarnock. He and his wife, Jannine, built a home on the Rappahannock River and made the permanent move in 1991 when he accepted a county job as building and land use administrator. Less than two years later he become county administrator.

Retirement for Pennell means continuing community work as a volunteer. And being permanent residents means for eternity.

“Jannine and I have plots in St. Mary’s White Chapel,” he said. “We’ll be here forever.”

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