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Death of Life Member John Penrod

We were saddened to learn of the passing of our longest serving Life Member, John Penrod.
John was in Lakeland Hospital in St. Joseph, for heart surgery and passed away Saturday September 19, 2015 


The man behind the camera...
by Tom McCall

While the name John Penrod was well known by thousands of people across the nation, on the beautiful Penrod/Hiawatha calendars and picture post cards, only a few of our current members personally knew the name – and the man behind it.  He was a talented photographer and businessman to be sure.  What others, both locally and nationally might not have known --- is that he was only in his early twenties and working in construction as a plasterer, when he joined the Twin City Camera Club in 1952.  John, with 63 years as a member, had the longest continuous membership in the club.  John was also a self-employed commercial fisherman in the Florida Keys for a long time and would go there for the winter.

John's son Dan, also a member of TCCC, told me that on Wednesday, September 16th, John went into Lakeland Hospital for heart surgery.  Dan said that they were replacing two leaky valves and that during surgery, John suffered complications and passed away on Saturday.  Dan said John did not want a funeral or a viewing.  Dan said he will be cremated and taken to Florida to be with Dan's mom in one of their favorite fishing spots.

I spoke with Dick Lyon, who joined the club in 1954, he remembers John as a pleasant man, truly interested in photography and absorbing everything he could learn about photography from the other members.  He said John competed in prints and had a great imagination and would come up with some interesting interpretations of some of the monthly select subjects.  He said John would make his prints in a darkroom that he had in a shed at his home.  He said John was very active in the club, serving as the Club's President in 1958 and volunteering to work as the Head Usher with the Travel and Adventure series for many years.   

John’s photographic skills served him well in the club competitions where he won Print of the Year in 1958, 1959, 1962, 1963, and 1965.  John was the Print Point Champion in 1958 and 1961. 

In 1958 John transformed a couple of his black and white photographs of Berrien Springs, Michigan into 3 ” x 5 ” post cards and began a rewarding and successful adventure into post card sales as Penrod Studios.  Going door to door in the town’s business district he found it was quite easy to sell his cards at the rate of 1000 cards for $25.00.  The following year he took a three month leave from his job as a plasterer and produced ten more post cards of the area.  Enjoying this endeavor so much he never returned to his old job.  You can read all about John's first 50 years in business and check out his early postcards, including the one's that started it all, on the page, Shadows and Highlights 2 - Life Member John Penrod Honored for 50 years in business.

I remember John as always smiling, friendly and pleasant.  He was a gracious host at the Penrod/Hiawatha studio when he invited the club out for a tour and photo shoot.  I know that all of the members that attended the photo shoot said they really enjoyed being there.  On a few occasions when John was back in the area, he would come and be a judge for one of our competitions.  It was always great to see him.

The next time you spot a calendar or post card from Penrod/Hiawatha, you'll know a little more about "The man behind a camera."  As the Postcards always say --- We Wish You Were Here, John. 


We extend our heartfelt sympathy to John's family and friends.  He will be missed.



The man who shot Michigan

Berrien Center's John Penrod left legacy of postcard and calendar images

The Herald-Palladium, Wednesday, September 23, 2015
By JIM DALGLEISH - HP Asst. Local News Editor

BERRIEN CENTER - It's hard to find a rack of postcards or calendars in a Michigan store without photographs by John Penrod.

The prolific photographer, publisher and distributor died Saturday in St. Joseph, 57 years after he started Penrod-Hiawatha Co. at his home in Berrien Center.  He was 86.

"He was a gentle man.  He loved life," his son, Danny Penrod, said Tuesday.

Danny and his wife, Ellen, run the company.

The business proved fruitful enough to allow John Penrod to spend summers on Lake Michigan and winters in the Bahamas.  But the money may just have been a bonus.

"It pleases me a lot to see my work on a calendar, to shoot a picture people want to look at for a whole month and then frame afterwards.  Calendars are very rewarding," he told The Herald-Palladium in 1995.

John Penrod bristled at the idea taking photos was work.

Asked in 1995 if he plans to retire, Penrod said, "Retire? ... How can you retire when you don't work? ...  It's a job people would almost pay to do.  I turn down a lot of assignments because I don't have enough time."

The Ohio native founded Penrod Studios in 1958 after he found buyers in Berrien Springs for postcard images of the village following a massive snowstorm.  The business, run by John and his wife, Alice, quickly grew.  In 1969, it bought the Hiawatha Card Co. of Northern Michigan.

Small towns across the state often hired Penrod to create postcard images featuring their main streets, businesses, schools and natural features.  Penrod often created montage cards for such communities.

He shot Michigan's lake vistas, waterfalls, sunsets, parks and river scenes.  He shot bridges and highways, lighthouses, buildings and skylines.

And his photo skills were further in demand outside of the state, Danny Penrod said.  He said his father took commissions in Florida, New York state and Maine, to name a few.

He had been a newspaper stringer in 1950s, but he told The HP he turned down car accident and crime assignments because he didn't want to make money from human misfortune.  Instead, he focused on nature, especially storm clouds and lightning.

He said his favorite image showed lightning over the Mackinac Bridge.

Kenneth McKeown, president of the Twin Cities Camera Club, said he remembers John as a gracious host at the studio and a pleasant guy at the club.

He said members were struck by how Penrod captured the inside of a Buchanan factory through a time exposure and multiple light placements.

"He was good at just about everything he did," McKeown said.

That included laying drywall and catching fish, he said.

In later years, John Penrod worked as a "bucket fisherman" in the Florida Keys, Dan said, catching fish by rod and reel and selling the fresh bounty to restaurants.

Danny said his father had been planning another such fishing trip for next year until he became ill.

Danny said there had been one indicator his father was slowing down: He planted only 150 tomato plants this year in the 1-acre garden outside the studio.  He said his father made a point of providing fresh flowers each week for the office staff.


One of the employees at Penrod/Hiawatha came up with an idea to honor John's memory with a memorial bench at Fernwood Botanical gardens.  They thought that there could be a bench overlooking an area of wildflowers for people to sit and enjoy the beauty of nature that John loved so much.

If interested in making a contribution, any amount is appreciated.  Please send it to Ellen Penrod at 10116 M-140 Berrien Center, Michigan 49102       Thank You.




  - Death of Life Member John Penrod - You are Here

- Life Member John Penrod Honored for 50 years in business

- They call them Megagraphics

- Amber and her Gorilla

 -  Ken McKeown featured in local publication

         -  Lauren Strach featured in local paper

         -  Curtis Drake featured in local paper



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