Son carries on father's commitment to Heartspring
According to the Department of Labor, the national average for number of years with an employer is three to five years. Michael and his father do not fit that statistic.
Michael is continuing a practice started by his father, Glenn who worked for the Institute of Logopedics for 42 years. In the summer of 1968 Glenn Pennington informed his son that he too would be joining the maintenance department at the Institute of Logopedics.
“I remember my dad coming home one day while I was on summer vacation and telling me I was through sitting around all day. I was getting a job. To this day, I have no idea if an application was ever filled out in my name. If there was one, my dad took care of it,” he remembers.
That was 30 years ago and Pennington recalls his first day on the job. “I remember it vividly. They sent me to the boiler room to roll carpet. It was August,” he laughs.
Not only has Pennington worked for Heartspring for almost 30 years, he spent nearly his entire childhood living on the grounds of the old campus. His parents moved there only months before he was born.
“I remember as a child, my dad would get calls at all hours of the night. He would have to go out and let people in who were locked out or fix a broken pipe. Sometimes he would be home for dinner and sometimes he would not. I remember the phone always ringing and it was always for him.”
Growing up at a school for children with special needs can be difficult for a young child to explain to his peers. Pennington says there were some instances that he remembers people making comments, but for the most part, it was not an issue he had to deal with.
“I remember this one time I was playing with a neighborhood kid and we were building a fort. One of the kids I played with from The Institute came over to play with us. He could not speak and was deaf. The three of us continued to play for a while and the neighborhood kid made the comment ‘Gosh, he is smart!’ and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Whoever said he was dumb?’. I just didn’t think anything of it – the fact that there was anything different about where I lived.”
Pennington says in those days the types of students that lived on the grounds were higher functioning than the students we serve today.
“It wasn’t until the 1980s, when Reagan was president and the regulations we know today were implemented for public schools. It was then that the government required that public schools had to serve students with special education needs and that totally changed the way we operated.”
Before that time, he says it was more of a family oriented environment. “Back in those days, many families would move on campus and live here for 6 or 8 or 9 months, or whatever the therapy called for. There were many higher functioning students living here back then because of the way the laws were.”
Both the Pennington men saw many changes during their years of service but perhaps the biggest changes came in the 1990s. In 1993 the Institute of Logopedics changed its name to Heartpsring and in 1998 the new campus was completed. Both Michael and Glenn had mixed emotions about the new facility going up.
“It bothered me to see the old facility torn down. I was quite attached to that place. Not only did they tear down the whole facility, they even renamed the street. It hurt my father as well. He had retired about 4 years before we moved to the new facility. I think he drove through the new campus once but it hurt him to see 30 years of his life gone like that.”
But Pennington says there were some great advantages to the new facility, including all the input the maintenance department had on the design.
“They let us give input on how the homes and main building was designed. Like the homes have four bathrooms, that way if something goes wrong with one in the middle of the night, there are three others in the home they can use until we get the one fixed. Many of the parts are universal across campus, which makes it easier to fix things. That has cut down on the nights and weekends that the job used to include.”
After all the years of fixing problems on both campuses, Pennington says he has learned a lot about home repair.
“I like to say that I can fix anything from the shingles to the sewer. But as our current facility ages a lot of things seem to go wrong at once. The water heaters go out or the windows need replaced. Typical home maintenance. And computers are involved today. Many of the things have computer chips and sensors in them.”
Pennington says he doesn’t know why his father devoted 42 years of his life working for the Institute of Logopedics. Four years ago his father passed away. But Pennington is doing a good job carrying on the legacy that his father started.
“I never did ask him why (he worked here so long). I guess you get sucked in here. My two brothers also worked here for a short time. I guess he was protective and wanted to watch over us. He used to joke and say it was the only way he could get reliable help.”
After almost three decades of service to the organization, Michael has seen many changes in special education laws and regulations and changes in the attitudes of society. Despite all of the changes, Pennington stays constant.
“I don’t ever see a need for a place like this going away,” he says. “My goal is to be here as long as my dad or longer–to be that long time employee.”