La Roy M. Penwell, the well known and popular funeral director of Topeka, Kan., represents that type of a self-made man who is ever ready to share his own prosperity with the upbuilding of the community. He comes of sturdy Welsh ancestry who were New England pioneers, and was born at Buchanan, Mich., Nov. 25, 1862. His parents were Eli W. and Mary L. (Rouse) Penwell, the former a native of Elkhart, Ind., and the latter of Tonawanda, N. Y., being the daughter of Capt. Pardon Rouse, noted in his day as a boatman on the Erie canal. He removed to Buchanan, Mich., when Mary L. was a small girl and resided there until his death. Eli W. Penwell was the son of John Nelson and Jerusha (Ives) Penwell, the former a native of Wales and the son David and Jerusha (Hyde) Penwell, the founders of the family in America. David Penwell was born and reared in Wales, and married Miss Jerusha Hyde, of London, England. She was one of the famous Hyde heirs to a $20,000,000 estate in England that has been in course of litigation for over a century. David Penwell and family immigrated to America and located in New Hampshire, where he and his wife spent the remainder of their lives. John Nelson Penwell accompanied his parents to this country when a boy and grew to manhood among the hills of New Hampshire. He chose for his wife Miss Jerusha Ives, who bore him two sons, William Nelson and Eli William, the latter of whom became the father of La Roy M. Penwell of this review. Soon after his marriage, John M. Penwell removed from New Hampshire to Elkhart, Ind., where he resided until after the death of his wife, when he removed to a wild tract of land located about half way between Buchanan and Niles, Mich. After residing in Michigan several years, he removed to a farm near Ottumwa, Iowa, where he ended his days. Eli W. Penwell and wife became the parents of seven children, of whom four grew to maturity: La Roy McClellan, of this sketch; Frank S.; Apheus A., superintendent of the Los Angeles & Pacific railroad shops located at Los Angeles, Cal.; and Alva J., who is farming near El Reno, Okla.
La Roy M. Penwell attended the schools of Michigan and Kansas until the age of thirteen, when he climbed into the saddle, and for the next four years herded cattle in southern Kansas. At the age of seventeen, he resolved to learn the carpenter trade under his father, who was a skilled workman, then residing at Meriden, Kan. After one year with his father, he secured a position with the depot and bridge building crew of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad at San Marcell, Mex., and continued in that department until February, 1888, when he was transferred to the Topeka shops and assigned to work in the cabinet department, where for six years, or until six o'clock p. m., of April 30, 1894, he was engaged in building railway coaches. Prior to severing his connections with the Santa Fe, he had made all arrangements to open an undertaking establishment in Topeka on May 1, 1894, and from that date to the present time he has been actively engaged in that business. Success attended him from the start, for he kept in touch with every phase of the undertaker's art and his equipment is the very best to be had. His new building at 508-510 Quincy street not only contains a fine suite of parlors but also a morgue of the latest design and equipment. On Aug. 18, 1888, Mr. Penwell was united in marriage with Miss Mary E. Maston, the daughter of Harvey Maston, a veteran of the Civil war who was killed in the battle of Chickamauga. He enlisted at Pontiac, Ill., and was at the front with his command when Mrs. Penwell was born on Feb. 14, 1863. Although he made every effort to secure a furlough home, he was unsuccessful and died in battle without ever having seen his infant daughter. Mr. and Mrs. Penwell have a daughter, Portia W., now taking a course in Christian College, at Columbia, Mo. Politically, Mr. Penwell is a progressive Democrat and ranks high in the councils of his party. He has been a member of the Democratic Central Committee of Shawnee county for years and has served as chairman of both the city and county central committees. He also served as treasurer of the Democratic State Central Committee for four years. In 1896 he was his party's candidate for county treasurer, and in 1908 was elected a representative in the state legislature from the 38th district, being the first Democrat ever sent to the legislature from that district. His term expired in January, 1911, and he refused a renomination. He also has refused the solicitations of his friends to become a candidate for governor, as well as for Congress. In 1900 he was Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms at the National Democratic Convention at Kansas City, Mo. Fraternally, Mr. Penwell affiliates with about all of the secret orders in Topeka. In Masonry he has attained to the Thirty-second degree, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, is a Knight Templar, and a member of Abdallah Temple, Ancient Arabic Order, Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, which he represented at the Imperial Council in 1908 at St. Paul, Minn. He is Master of Topeka Lodge No. 17, Free and Accepted Masons, and has served as Knight Commander of the Ancient Order, Toltec Rite. He is a Past Grand of Topeka Lodge No. 40, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and has been a member of the Grand Lodge of Kansas for fifteen years, six of which he has served as chairman of the finance committee. He is also a member of Shawnee Encampment No. 3, Independent Order of Odd Fellows. He is Past Exalted Ruler of Topeka Lodge No. 204, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and in 1907 he represented his lodge at the meeting of the Grand Lodge at Denver, Col., and has been a member of it since that date. He is Past Chancellor of Valliant Lodge No. 155, Knights of Pythias of Topeka, and has been a member of the Knights of Pythias Grand Lodge for the past ten years. He is President of Topeka Aerie No. 58, Fraternal Order of Eagles. He was one of the organizers of the Kansas Funeral Directors' Association and is now serving his fourteenth consecutive year as its secretary; he is a Past President of the National Funeral Directors' Association and has served as its representative at the National Baggage Men's Association meetings and at the National and Provincial Boards of Health meeting at Washington, D. C., in 1909. He is a member of the Topeka Commercial Club and has served as its treasurer for several years; is a Past Master of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, and Past Counsel of the Modern Woodmen of America; is serving his sixth year as Lieutenant-Colonel on General Mitchell's staff of Foresters; is a Past President of Capital Council No. 1, Knights and Ladies of Security; and is a member of the Royal Arcanum, the National Union, Woodmen of the World, Fraternal Aid Association, the Triple Tie Association, the Court of Honor, the Select Knights and Ladies, the Royal Neighbors, the Degree of Honor, the Sons and Daughters of Justice, the Fraternal Mystic Circle, the National Protective Legion and the Loyal Order of Moose, and is Dictator of the last order named. Mr. Penwell is also prominent in church circles, being a member of the First Christian Church of Topeka, of which he has served as financial secretary for the past two years. He is also interested and holds stock in several of Topeka's industrial corporations, among them being the Topeka Pure Milk Company, the Vermont Granite Company, the Smith Automobile Company, and a number of others. He is a director in the Kansas State Fair Association and one of its most enthusiastic workers. Although Mr. Penwell is a member of nearly every fraternal organization in the city, he devotes a portion of his time to each and is deservedly popular in all.
It would seem from the foregoing that he had about all he could possibly handle in conjunction with his rapidly increasing business as a funeral director, but his numerous friends, regardless of party, insisted on his services as a member of the Topeka School Board, and over his protest, placed his name on the city ticket in April, 1911. He led the six successful candidates, receiving 9,538 votes out of a total vote of about 15,000. Of the six members elected, he led Mrs. Evans by 1,652 and Mr. Jones by 3,856 votes, and led Mayor Billard, the successful candidate for mayor, by 1,778 votes. Mr. Penvell is a man of fine address, and possesses those genial qualities so essential to the making and holding of friends.Pages 200-203 from volume III, part 1 of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed December 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM195. It is a two-part volume 3.
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