Penny Pappas: A Woman for All Seasons

Amy Joy

"There are not enough pages in New Horizons to mention all the good things about Penny Pappas." So says John Tolsma, one of Penny's contemporaries who worked with her on the staff of Great Commission Publications back in the 1960s. Educator, writer, mentor, Sunday school teacher, school principal, caterer, interior decorator, workshop leader, and real estate salesman are just some of the many hats she wore, and she was always ready for one more challenge. It has been said that Penny exhibited every gift but preaching, and had to hold her tongue from doing that!

Penny was a pioneer in the true sense of the word when it comes to the education of our children in the Reformed faith. And it is not an easy task, communicating ideas like total depravity and unconditional election to our primary children in a way they can understand.

Born Helen Smith, Penny grew up in Minnesota, and later married John Pappas and moved to the Philadelphia area in 1943, where she began teaching first grade at Willow Grove Christian School, now Phil-Mont Christian Academy.

After teaching for a few years, she took a year off to take care of the first of her four children. Knowing that she had exhibited great skills as a teacher and was now "available," the Committee on Christian Education asked her to help develop a Sunday school teaching curriculum for the primary grades for Great Commission Publications—which she proceeded to do with gusto. Penny had come into the Reformed faith only recently and spent the summer reading the likes of Calvin, Berkhof, and Machen before starting on the material. Working with John Tolsma, Dorothy Partington Anderson, and John Mitchell, among others, Penny wrote the lessons for the primary grades and also the junior grades that were eventually published by the Committee in the late sixties and early seventies.

But she didn't rest yet. Next she was asked by the Committee to conduct workshops in the northeast presbyteries, helping Sunday school teachers implement this new material. She and her husband, John, traveled up and down the East Coast leading these workshops; eventually she trained others to lead the workshops as well. By this time, Penny was also principal at Phil-Mont Christian Academy, and was teaching the first grade Sunday school class at her church.

Although the Sunday school material was a significant contribution, it is not the only ministry she is known for. Penny was a wonderful caterer, and prepared a magnificent spread for many a wedding, including the cake. Having married into a Greek family, she fell in love with the food, traditions, and culture. The house was often full of people for Sunday dinner, with more food choices than a Chinese buffet. Her baklava is to die for!

She transformed the drab basement of Trinity OPC in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, with her innovative decorating, using whatever materials she could round up. Her family attests to the fact that wherever they lived, Penny would transform it into a beautiful home, decorated with antique finds from Maine, seaside treasures, and her own innovations.

It wasn't until after she was seventy that one of the young people asked Penny if she would lead their high school Sunday school class. She became "Granny" to all of them, challenging their minds as well as taking them camping and on picnics. Penny and John mentored many of the young people, as well as leading Bible studies for young married couples.

She now lives in Liberty, Maine, near her daughter Merrie and son-in-law, retired OP minister John Bettler. Penny has always had a thirst for deeper knowledge of our faith, and avidly reads books on theology and the defenders of our faith, as well as reading the Scriptures in Greek.

Penny says she has never been bored. She shows a great interest in anything she turns her mind to do. She gives her all to everything she does, demonstrating her love for people and her desire to serve others with joy. And it continues today as she showers the congregation of Lakeview OPC in Rockport, Maine, with her wonderful baked goods each Sunday morning.

The author is a member of Lakeview OPC in Rockport, Maine.


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