Jake was born a twin on February 19, 1928 in Steinfeld, Ukraine, to Johann and Maria Penner. His father was a teacher and a pastor and Jake became a Christian in his youth. Jake lived through the man-made famine of 1932-33 and credits his mother with their family’s survival. His family was part of the Great Trek of Mennonites into Poland in an attempt to escape turmoil and persecution. It was in Poland that he was separated from his family when, at age 16, he was conscripted into the German army. Despite earning marksmanship awards, Jake followed his pacifist values and declined to shoot at the enemy.
He escaped and became an American POW near the end of the war and immigrated to Canada in 1948. Jake became part of the John Funk family in Elm Creek, MB. Here he learned the English language and attended Winkler Bible School.
His work in life started with getting a Psychiatric Nursing Certificate in Ponoka in 1955. He married Marie Enns in 1956 and, after a short time in Ponoka, they moved to Campden, ON to serve at Bethesda Home, a private mental institution owned by the Ontario Mennonite Brethren Conference. He and Marie considered this mission work. Workers and their families created an atmosphere of closeness, spending many hours outside of work playing and eating together. He worked as Director of Nursing for over 10 years, and became Health Care Coordinator in 1972 when Bethesda Home was taken over by the Ontario government and repurposed as a home for mentally challenged adults. He enjoyed staff and residents alike. Along with other duties, Jake taught endless First Aid courses and was the capable person everyone ran for if there was an emergency. Jake was in his mid-fifties when he decided to become an RN. He continued to work a full-time position while taking an RN Refresher course at Mohawk College in Hamilton, ON. He passed the RN exam at age 57.
Throughout his working career, Jake was a family man, spending many summers camping and enjoying traveling with Marie and their 5 children. He was involved in church life as a deacon for many years, and also taught Bible studies in small group settings. After working for 33 years at Bethesda Home Jake retired. Shortly thereafter, he and Marie moved to Edmonton, AB to be closer to their grandchildren. They built a life around church and family. Despite being seen as a quiet and gentle man, Jake was all about having fun. This included an endless supply of “Like the one guy” jokes. Jake also enjoyed having the time to garden, experimenting with grafting fruit trees and growing large tomatoes from Russian seeds. Instead of wood working he chose needlework as a hobby. He created these works of love to give to each child and grandchild. Jake loved his children and grandchildren and was developing a special relationship with his great-granddaughter. In turn they loved and honoured him. Every morning Jake thanked God for his family and asked for their protection and blessing throughout the day. He was a thankful man who loved God. It was Jake’s wish to remain in their home spending time with Marie until his death and God granted this request.
Survived by loving wife Marie Penner; children, Al Penner (Moly) of Edmonton, AB, Rick Penner (Van) of Edmonton, AB, Darwin Penner (Vanna) of Ottawa, ON, Arlette Penner (Bruce Vidler) of Winnipeg, MB, and Mel Penner (Joyce) of Winnipeg, MB; 8 Grandchildren; 1 Great Grandchild. Survived by brother Isaak Penner of Germany.