Librarian keeps track of (J.C.) Penney
Linda Thatcher, retired librarian at Utah State History will give a presentation about James Cash Penney from 5-6 p.m. on Thursday, May 3, at the Park City Museum’s Education and Collections Center, 2079 Sidewinder Drive. The event is free and open to the public. For information, visit www.parkcityhistory.org.
During the 1970s, the J.C. Penney department store chain’s commercial jingle was “This is us. This is J.C. Penney.”
Linda Thatcher, retired librarian at Utah State History, plans to take that jingle one step further and introduce Park City to James Cash Penney, the man behind the store, from 5-6 p.m. on Thursday, May 3, at the Park City Museum’s Education and Collections Center, 2079 Sidewinder Drive. The event is free and open to the public.
One of the topics Thatcher will focus on is Penney’s Utah connections, which she discovered while writing an article for the Avenues Newsletter in Salt Lake City a few years ago.
“I knew he had a home on 7th Avenue, so I thought I would do an article on it,” she said. “As I started researching, I found more connections with Salt Lake City and Utah.”
Two major connections involve his first and second wives.
His first, Berta A. Hess, is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake City.
She died close to Christmas in 1910 after contracting pneumonia while walking home in the cold after a tonsillectomy, Thatcher said.
“Berta was very much involved with the Methodist Church, and while J.C. Penney wasn’t interested in joining any religion, he befriended the minister,” Thatcher said. “So after her death, he paid off the church’s mortgage.”
The church, which still stands on the corner of 200 East and 200 South in Salt Lake City, still displays a plaque above its door that is dedicated to Berta.
“I don’t think there are a lot of people who know that connection with J.C. Penney,” Thatcher said.
The minister also suggested Penney join the Masons. So he did and became a member of the Wasatch Lodge No. 1 of the Free and Accepted Masons of Utah.
“They used to have a lodge on 100 South, and when they built the existing lodge in 1924 on South Temple, J.C. donated $10,000,” Thatcher said.
Penney’s second wife, Mary Hortense Kimball, not only has Utah connections, but has ties to Park City.
“Her father, Edwin Kimball, was at one time the mayor of Park City,” Thatcher said.
Mary was educated in music and did some civilian service in France during World War I.
“She actually met J.C. Penney while he was living in New York, after he moved from Salt Lake City,” Thatcher said. “They had one son, Kimball Penney.”
Mary Kimball Penney died in 1923, due to complications of a second pregnancy.
“I think the Park City connection could be expanded into a presentation itself,” Thatcher said with a laugh.
Of course, the other connection J.C. Penney has with Utah were his stores, which were incorporated in 1926.
At that time, he had 36 stores in the United States, and 13 were in Utah, Thatcher said.
“During the 1970s, most of the J.C. Penney stores shifted from being Main Street stores to anchor stores for shopping malls, although there was a Main Street store in Price that remained there until 2016,” she said.
Penney required the stores serve the community, according to Thatcher.
“If a store was located in a farming community, he would sell clothes for farmers,” she said. “he stores in a mining community would sell clothes more miners.”
Penney also believed his employees should be involved in the community.
“He expected his managers to belong to the chambers of commerce and other local organizations,” Thatcher said. “His stores would sell war bonds and collect books to send to the servicemen during World War II. And his store in Bountiful, which was managed by Berta’s brother, A.L, Hess, would offer scholarships for students to attend Brigham Young University.
Thatcher will also chronicle Penney’s early life.
“He was born in Missouri to James C. Penney and Mary Pitt Frances in Missouri,” she said. “He was one of 12 children, six of whom survived to adulthood.”
Penney’s father was a Primitive Baptist Preacher, who told him when he was 8 that he needed to learn how to make his own living.
“If my dad did that to me when I was 8, I wouldn’t know what to do,” Thatcher said with another laugh.
Penney worked for his dad and planned to go to law school, but when his father died, he changed his plans and began working in a local clothing store, which started his road to becoming one of the most successful merchants of the 20th century, she said.
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