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Unveiling a Beauty Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by melanie mae, United States Aug 19, 2004
Health   Interviews
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“We have a human centric way of explaining things and that’s so inadequate…”
Jan Penn, advisory board member of SOEI

It all started with Jan Penn’s first bee. Being in gardens, fields, and woods with her family, how she first experienced nature, leads us to why Jan is such a loving and compassionate advocate for the environment today. She says one of her earliest memories, she will always remember was sitting in a field of dandelions in the lawn, it was spring, and one of her grandpa’s was a beekeeper. A bee came flying around her and she started to swat at it. Her grandpa said, “They’ll bite you if you start swinging your hands. Sit and be quiet and tell the bee that you will exist quietly with it.” So she did and the bee flew away from her and didn’t bother her again. And she never forgot that beautiful memory and lesson in caring for the environment.

“That is one memory, there is more.” Another story she recalls was of her grandfather taking her to Potawatomi hunting grounds, teaching her to find arrowheads by focusing in. “I could find one, just a little piece sticking out of the mud, by not seeing the symmetric, ”she says. He taught her how to really pay attention to the little things, and also helping her look for four leaf clovers.

Her grandmother was a Union organizer and always told her, ‘if you want something, go for it’. “She was a strong lady, an earth person, understood the seasons, she was a farmer.” Penn got her inspiration to be involved with environmental issues because of both of her grandmothers. “I am a lucky person, I have been blessed,”she says of her childhood.

Her family has farmed in lower Wisconsin since the early 1800’s. In 1972, Jan moved to the Chequamegon area from lower Wisconsin. On a trip visiting her husband Rick’s grandmother, she discovered the country of the Northwoods. Jan could likewise see that in the Northwoods of Wisconsin health care needs were being missed. “I wanted to do something different…in the 1960’s you were either a teacher or a nurse. I wanted to be a nurse in a rural area, and demonstrate my nursing ability. ”

“I have always dreamed of being a midwife because of the story of Margaret Breckinridge,” she says. In the 1920’s, Breckinridge lost her young children and moved to the most poverty stricken area of the United States, Hyden, Kentucky where the infant mortality rate was very, very high. Breckinridge felt nurse-midwives would make impact on the outcome of a pregnancy. Jan says, “Doctors wouldn’t go there, but Margaret Breckinridge did. Afterwards babies and women were surviving…and she proved that is what nurses really could do.”

Jan later became a nurse practitioner, not the midwife she originally dreamed. She loves “helping people to be healthy and know what’s around them and help them make that connection.

“There is no way to separate health and environmental issues. A healthy place is a healthy person. It all interrelates; the air we breathe, the noise we hear, how we feel,” Jan says, “I tend to be philosophical and make those kinds of connections.

“I am not a Board member with money. What you see is what you get. I want to keep the direction honest and I have a lot of energy. I focus on the critical issues of the region and am not afraid to do that. “I knew people on the board and was involved with various campaigns. They needed local representation and a balance on the board, and knew I understood the dynamics- social, cultural, and environmental science.

“Board members and trustees are afraid to get into controversial issues like motorized recreational sports. I didn’t know Sigurd Olsen personally, but he’d support it, he was into controversial issues.”

Penn is also active in 4-H and the League of Women Voters, besides being on the Institute’s advisory board. She also works on the writing award, working towards getting the children’s award off the ground. She says, “It is all still nursing because it deals with health, that’s how I think about it.” Jan has been amazed at turning kids on to what’s around them; get them into water quality and ecosystem. The educational perspective of Loonwatch has been a good tool for her goals.

Jan loves Emerging Issues as well. “There is a lot happening here that could devastate the balance that is left. We haven’t identified all the issues we need to,” she says. She wants to make things happen and work on getting the resources for change.

“At times I am really tired. I get energized by seeing things happen…after giving the message to over five generations of families, it is motivating to see at least one person is receiving… the light bulb turns on. You have to be in it for the long haul until you see movement and growth. A lot of people in the area do not even know what is going on around them. “She likes to be the educator - to make people see, and then turn the light bulb on in their minds to what they do not know. That’s her reward.

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Ricky | Oct 12th, 2004
Very touching and inspiring!

melanie mae | Nov 2nd, 2005

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