Charles Richard Pennington, 86, Las Vegas

USAF Retired Col. Charles Richard Pennington, age 86, of Las Vegas, Nevada, formerly of Rockford, Iowa, passed away Friday, December 16, 2016. He will be buried on Friday, June 23, 2017 at Riverside Cemetery in Charles City.

A gathering of family and friends will be held at Hauser Funeral Home June 23, 2017 from 12:30 to 2:00 P.M. followed by the graveside service at Riverside. Contributions in Charles’ memory may be made to St. Andrew Lutheran Church.

Below are the words of his loving family ……………………………..

“Girls, the bus leaves in five minutes.” We’ll never hear his voice again, and we miss him already. Charles Richard Pennington (Chuck) passed away on December 16, 2016, at the age of 86. We’d like to share memories of our wonderful husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, and uncle. Chuck was born on a farm outside of Rockford, Iowa. He met Wilma, his lifelong sweetheart, on a date with Wilma’s sister and Chuck’s best friend. As Wilma and Chuck later told the story, they weren’t sure how Chuck’s parents, Clarence and Luella, were going to take to the girl from Ionia. But Wilma was welcomed with open arms. Such a beautiful farm. But early on, Chuck had an itch that couldn’t quite be scratched, something beyond the farm: college. Safe to say his decision to move away wasn’t exactly met with wild enthusiasm. Away from Clarence and Luella. Away from little brother Bruce. Maybe mirroring his sister Edith’s independence. After Wilma and Chuck married, they were off to Iowa State University. Dad had worked at the Charles City Oliver tractor plant for a while, and he took after his Mom and Dad in his capacity to work with his hands and figure things out. Engineering was a perfect fit. Chuck managed to pay for his engineering degree by working multiple jobs, and Air Force ROTC helped. Son Clarence Richard (Rich) was born there. No one in Chuck’s immediate family had been in the military. Perhaps Linda’s birth in Ames was a mild and joyous surprise – but Chuck’s commissioning in the Air Force and a military family’s journey that began in Texas? For sure a surprise. Chuck started as a navigator. But he wasn’t content to just guide the airplane; he took private flight lessons also. He kind of crashed his first airplane, but that didn’t deter him. The family moved to Savannah, Georgia, where Chuck served as a navigator in B-47 bombers – and Mary was born. Chuck proudly told the tale of how he became a pilot. Chuck – who was on a senior crew with a reputation for excellence in Strategic Air Command’s bombing and navigation competitions – marched into his commander’s office and announced his intention to resign. Unless he could be a pilot. Perhaps foretelling the respect that his Air Force colleagues had for him, Chuck’s superiors worked magic to get him into pilot training despite his age.

Before long the five-member family was shuffling again between bases in Georgia and Texas for pilot training. Little known fact: Chuck was one of the top-two in his pilot training class. Chuck decided the G’s of fighters might not be the best long-range strategy, and he chose to fly C-118 transports instead. Daughter Brenda was born in West Palm Beach, Florida, while Chuck was training there. Chuck flew the world over. In fact, a few weeks before he passed away Chuck was listening to the audio recording of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. He surfaced from his earbuds long enough to say, “I’ve been to those places: Hickam, Hawaii; Wake Island; Midway.” C-118’s gave way to KC-97s, a bomber-conversion tanker that Chuck flew in England. As a model of personal courage, maybe a little insanity, Chuck and Wilma leased a vacant hall owned by Sir Thomas Cook’s family – to the children it seemed like a castle – created apartments and sublet residences to other military families. Chuck and Wilma probably never knew the lasting impact the England three-year visit had on the kids: a private plane trip to Spain via France, visits all over the English country side, a magical trip to Scotland. And that assignment may have been the kids’ first realization of Chuck and Wilma’s deep connection with their faith and the church: at the Church of England parish in the little town of Guist.

Dad was smart, and the Air Force sent him to Pittsburgh for his Master’s degree in industrial engineering. Then off to Topeka, Kansas, to fly C-130s. Probably somewhere during the Pittsburgh-Topeka period, Dad’s propensity for punctuality reared its head. “The bus leaves in five minutes” was the rallying cry for the Sunday Lutheran church service and just about any other event when son Rich and Chuck were waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting. In 1967, Chuck was called to serve in the Vietnam conflict. He and Wilma moved the family to Kaneohe, Hawaii for a year so he could be close enough to see them during rest and recuperation (R&R) breaks. Mom shared the loneliness with a Topeka friend whose husband also was in Vietnam. Brenda learned to hula. Mary navigated the difficult world of being a minority student in junior high school. Linda gracefully melted into her sophomore class at high school. Rich pretended he knew how to surf. We knew our husband and Father was a hero already – and he didn’t talk about it much – but he earned a Distinguished Flying Cross and Silver Star for his bravery flying the C-121 out of Thailand.

Like fighters in a formation, kids started peeling away as they moved into adulthood and found their own soulmates. Rich was off to the Air Force Academy and met Maggie in Denver. Linda dated Eddy in high school at Fort Walton Beach, Florida – where Mom and Dad developed their love for boating –left for a while when the family moved to Taiwan, then married Eddy after they were reassigned to Maxwell AFB, Alabama. Soon Linda and Eddy were off on their own Air Force journey. Mary married and started an Air Force journey also. Wilma and Chuck’s grandsons – Adam, Joshua, and Seth – were born and raised in an Air Force family. Joshua and Jessica eventually gave Chuck and Wilma three wonderful great grandchildren: Jacob, Luke, and Nora. Brenda was the hippy of the family. She found her love and might-as-well-be-adopted kids, Joanna and Michael, after driving to California in her newly-overhauled Volkswagen bug – Yes, “Grandpa can fix anything!” – and meeting their dad there.

Chuck and Wilma began the second chapter of their professional life at Wright-Patterson AFB, where Chuck retired after leading an Air Force configuration management organization. He had led a weapons test unit at Eglin AFB before, so the government contractor community came calling. Chuck and Wilma eventually located and relocated in Ridgecrest, Oxnard, Chatsworth, Canoga Park and Redondo Beach, California as Chuck’s talents kept getting recognized by various companies. Wilma may have thought that the moving might stop, but it’s baked into her also! Chuck and Wilma finally found another itch they couldn’t scratch. Chuck retired from Northrop Aircraft, and they chose Sun City, Nevada as their retirement home. At least, part-time. They had already cultivated a love of boating and sailing; now it was on to the RVs that they affectionately named and drove around the county. The kids enjoyed the visits on top of what had become an evolving tradition of family reunions: Royal Caribbean Mexico cruise; Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado; Navarre Beach, Florida; Mount Charleston, Nevada; Pensacola, Florida; Clear Lake, Iowa. Their three grandsons and three great-grandchildren were a source of joy. The kids loved Chuck and Wilma’s visits to wherever they were assigned: Germany, England, Cameroon, Eritrea, Korea, Hawaii and other places across the United States. Chuck was especially proud of the fact that they visited all seven continents. Brenda carried on the legacy; she was in South America – her 135th country – doing what she loved when Chuck passed away. He wanted it that way for all his kids.

Even when Chuck’s Parkinson’s disease started to impede his ability to do all that he wanted and had been able to do before, Wilma and Chuck powered on. The kids always marveled at watching them driving and parking the Allegro, Mom’s head just visible, and Chuck persistently offering his kind and thoughtful advice! So maybe there were a few tense moments, but until they stopped RV’ing several years ago, Mom was driving, and Chuck was unhitching the tow car, adjusting the levels, hooking up the electrical, water and sewer. Eventually, it became too much though, and the kids admired the way they just said, “it’s time to stop.” The last 22 months of Chuck’s life, and Wilma’s courageous care, were a study in contradictions. Parkinson’s is a cruel disease. We missed Chuck’s smile as the facial muscles just didn’t work anymore. But the sense of humor and twinkle in the eye were still there, even through the pain. Yet, we never heard him complain . . . ever. He might not feel like eating, but the answer to “Ice Cream?” was always “Yes.” And until the end, Chuck continued to dominate at cards: it was almost dispiriting at times!

The children would watch Wilma and Chuck look at each other across 67 years of shared experience – and hear their favorite song, the Seeker’s I’ll Never Find Another You – and they felt the meaning of “soulmate.” When you watched what had almost been another family at the Marquis Regency Plaza rehabilitation facility – Chuck had three stays there – care for him, you could feel the love they had for him, a love that made all this a little easier. Add the wonderful support that the St. Andrew Lutheran Church and congregation have given Chuck and Wilma, and it’s not difficult to understand how important their shared faith has been in their lives. To our husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother and uncle, we miss you. But the love and lessons we shared can’t be taken away; you’ll be with us forever. We have proof. Over the past year, Chuck would sit in his wheelchair in the living room, probably wishing he could pet Zelda, Mary and Fraser’s doggie. But he also enjoyed looking for hummingbirds to alight on the patio feeder. For several weeks – since his last hospitalization and return home – sadly none came by. The morning Dad passed away, sister Linda sent us a picture of a hummer perched on Dad’s feeder. “We all know it’s Dad checking in.” .

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