Lorne Penner : a walking CHS history lesson

Posted: July 6, 2011

By Julie Cole

Dr. Lorne Penner. Photo by Julie Cole.

Not many people remember when Caronport High School opened its doors 65 years ago.

Lorne Penner does.

He first heard about CHS on Briercrest Bible Institute’s The Young People’s Hour, a live radio program he listened to as a teenager.

“I really wanted to go to Christian high school for my Grade 12 year,” he said. “I was accepted to come here (its) very first year (in 1946). But that year the harvest was so late . . . so I said ‘I’ll wait another year.’”

The next fall Penner left his family’s farm in Morris, Man. and came to CHS for Grade 12. He paid for his tuition by selling four turkey hens and a gobbler he had raised.

“I didn’t know a soul on campus before I came,” he stated. “At that time, there were no houses here – no trees, no shrubs. There was one tree just outside of campus. Everything was just as the air force left it.”

CHS made use of several buildings the air force left behind. The main high school building was the old officer’s mess hall. Sunday services were held in the old recreation hall, now called The Landing.

“Me and another Grade 12 chap looked after the furnace in the high school building,” Penner recalled. “Then on Sunday it was my job to heat the furnace in the Landing. I had to get up at 2:30 in the morning on Sunday to get that furnace hot (for the 11:00 Sunday service).”

Despite the early mornings, Penner thrived during his year at CHS.

“That year in high school here was absolutely terrific,” he said emphatically. “Being with Christian kids my age – we were all just one big happy family. There were 16 of us in Grade 12, and 84 students in the whole high school. That year was so crucial for me because it settled so many issues.”

One of those issues was Penner’s future career. He had wanted to be a missionary doctor ever since he was six years old. The missionary speakers he heard at CHS chapels served to fuel this desire even more. Finally a wise professor’s words encouraged Penner to get the necessary medical training.

“Mr. (Orville) Swenson, my theology professor said, ‘Prepare as if you’ve got 20 years left to serve God, but live as if Christ were coming today.’ That was just the advice that I needed.”

Penner went to the University of Manitoba for his medical training. In 1957 he married his college sweetheart, Jean Tomlinson, a missionary nurse who had served in Egypt for three years. The couple spent eight years in Eritrea as medical missionaries.

“I had hoped to spend my life there,” Penner said, “but I became ill and had to come home.”

The Penners returned home to Steinbach, Man. – with six children.

After convalescing and practicing medicine in Steinbach, Penner got an invitation from one of his old high school buddies – Henry Budd – who was now the president of Briercrest Bible College. He asked Penner to come back and set up a medical clinic in Caronport.

“I saw the specific medical need on campus,” Penner stated. “Before I came, students (who needed a doctor) had to take a whole day out of classes to go to Moose Jaw.”

Penner served as campus doctor for nine years until his wife Jean passed away after 29 years of marriage. He later remarried his second wife Marnie and was married to her for 23 years until she passed away last October.

Penner, who has 20 grandchildren, says he is a “blessed man.” His long medical career has given him the opportunity to impact many people.

“I’ve delivered over 1,000 babies,” he insisted. “I can go just about anywhere and meet someone who I delivered!”

The good doctor has some advice for current CHS students.

“I would say what Mr. Swenson said to me,” he said. “If you feel God’s called you to a special career, don’t cut your time of preparation short. Live for the Lord while you are doing your preparation.”

He adds some of his own practical advice as well.

“Make sure your relationship with the Lord is right – that’s number one,” he exhorted. “Be careful to choose friends wisely and get into the habit of prayer and Scripture reading. Finally, enjoy life! But remember things of this life are temporary.”