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By Chinta Strausberg

Visitation for Dr. Barbara S. Penelton, 75, who died in a head-on car crash in Peoria last Monday, will be held Sunday, March 24, 2013, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the New Cornerstone Baptist Church, 3609 West Harmon Highway, Peoria, Illinois, followed by a 4 p.m. funeral.

During Sunday’s visitation at 3:30 p.m., her sisters of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc will hold a brief observance.

On Monday, March 25, 2013, visitation services for Dr. Penelton will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the South Side Unity Church, 9320 So. Ashland, Chicago, Illinois.

Interment will be held at the Lincoln Cemetery, 12300 So. Kedzie Avenue, Chicago, Il 60655.

The older of two children, Penelton was born on April 8, 1937 to the parents of Ruth and George Spencer in Chicago. Dr. Penelton’s maternal grandfather was a physician and her grandmother was a seamstress.

Dr. Penelton’s parents later moved to the newly federally subsidized Ida B. Wells development in the early 1940’s. After WW II, her father went into business and became an Amoco (Standard Oil) dealer. Mr. Spencer owned several of the franchises on Chicago’s south side, and retired in 1985. He is 95-years-old.

Dr. Penelton earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in education from the University of Illinois in Champaign in 1958 and a Master’s Degree in education also from the University of Illinois in 1961. After graduating from the University of Illinois, Dr. Penelton taught at the CPS’ Harvard and McCosh Elementary Schools until 1966.

Later in 1966, she moved to Peoria, IL, after accepting a position as director of education for the Peoria Tri County Urban League. In 1969, Penelton became the first African American female faculty member at Bradley University, also in Peoria, where she taught and served as chair of the university’s Department of Teacher Education in the College of Education and Health Sciences. Dr. Penelton also served as the University Ombudsman.

“She was an educator extraordinaire, and she loved being with and mentoring students,” said Dr. Joan Sattler, the dean of Bradley University. “She delighted in being around students and she had the special ability to bring out the special talents in students. I can’t believe she’s gone.”

Dr. Penelton received the Putnam Award for Teaching Excellence, the YWCA Leadership Award and numerous other academic and civic awards during her teaching career.

Dr. Penelton is the cousin of Pfc. Milton Lee Olive, III, 18, who on October 22, 1965 spotted a live grenade during a search and destroy mission in Vietnam, grabbed the device placed it on his stomach and allowed it to explode.

Olive’s act of bravery saved the lives of four comrades two of whom are alive today. Dr. Penelton, who grew up with Olive, lived four blocks from her maternal grandparents, Jacob and Zylphia Wareagle Spencer, who raised Olive from birth after his mother, Clara, died in childbirth. Olive was a breech baby.

Dr. Penelton would frequently attend press conferences in Chicago and spoke about Olive’s life and legacy on behalf of the family during Memorial Day services.

Dr. Penelton led a fulfilling and dedicated family life. In 1957 while studying at the University of Illinois, she met and married Frank Smith, a fellow Chicagoan who was then an art student at the university. To that union were born two daughters, Kim and Lisa. They divorced in 1965. In 1966, she met Peoria journalist Richard Penelton. They married in 1968 and Penelton adopted and raised their girls, until his untimely death in 1972. Dr. Penelton was widowed at the age of 35.

On the last day of her life, she spent time with her best friend, Joan Wesley, a childhood friend whom she convinced to move to Peoria from New Mexico. On that fatal night around 11:15 p.m., Dr. Penelton went by Wesley’s house to see that she got to bed and if she needed anything. The two had grown up together in Chicago and were close friends.

When Dr. Penelton left Wesley’s house, her car reportedly crossed into the center lane of the oncoming traffic killing her at the scene. She was going back to Chicago to check on her father who had successfully battled cancer. His wife, Ruth Spencer, who was a retired accountant with the State of Illinois, passed in 2007. They had been married for 70-years.

Dr. Penelton leaves to mourn a father, George Spencer, a brother, George Spencer, Jr., two daughters, Kim S.P. Campbell (Frank) and Lisa S. Penelton, two grandchildren and a host of friends and relatives.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.

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