Celebration planned for Cape resident's 100th birthday

Thursday, May 10, 2007
Mettie Penzel, soon to be 100, sat beside a bunch of azaleas and rhodendrons picked in Oak Ridge at the Pinecrest Azalea Farm, which she and her late husband started in 1962. (Chris Pagano ~ cpagano@semissourian.com)

Mettie Jane Killian Penzel will celebrate a three-digit birthday May 18. She hopes to see her two remaining siblings, Hubert Killian and Doshie Holmes, at the party held in her honor from 2 to 5 p.m. that day at Chateau Girardeau Health Center.

She has seen a lot of things grow in the 100 years she's lived in Cape Girardeau County. One of those is a well-renowned azalea garden in Oak Ridge. The 15-acre Pinecrest Azalea Garden has more than 200,000 plants, including jonquils, azaleas, rhododendrons and hollies. Penzel didn't think it would turn out that big when she and Carl, her late husband to whom she was married almost 70 years, started it 45 years ago.

More than 2,000 visitors across the United States are drawn to the farm annually.

"We set up the garden with plants, a lot grown from seeds that were just two leaves or so, and added more as time went on," she said. "We didn't buy too many at a time."

The abundant jonquils and daffodils at the garden are the result of a spadeful of bulbs given to her by a neighbor.

Perhaps Penzel's success as a gardener has a little to do with her favorite garden tool being a hoe and a lot to do with hard work. "My problem has always been to do too much of what I'm doing."

Penzel grew up picking cotton in Cape Girardeau and Dunklin counties and hated it. But she hated weeds even more and became an expert with the hoe when she married and had a garden of her own. "The other unit was not a hoe handler," she said.

Determination went beyond gardening as she saw Jackson grow as Penzel Construction did the same. Carl Penzel took over the company in 1954 when his father retired and Mettie took charge of the company books at the kitchen table. It was four years later the company became incorporated and Mettie became a stockholder -- along with other family members.

In 1996 Penzel Construction Company Inc. won the Mississippi Valley Family Business of the Year Award. The award is based on proven business success, positive family/business linkage, multi-generational and family business involvement, contribution to industry and community as well as innovate business practices or strategies.

Mettie was president of the Jackson Garden Club and won many awards for her efforts. Her husband's interest in gardening drove her to spearhead the Men's Garden Club in Jackson, which met at the farm. Determined to do what had not been done before, she wrote to garden enthusiasts in New York for direction.

Two decades of fun were spent bowling at Jackson Lanes, where Mettie was on the Strikette and Coffee Drinker Leagues. Mettie won numerous awards for bowling, including the "Senior Citizen of the Year" award.

She was the first woman to run for Jackson Board of Aldermen in Ward 1. She lost the race by 17 votes to Ray Reiminger. Her response to Jackson's woman mayor, Barbara Lohr, was, "As long as she is educated and has a good business mind, she can do the job as well as a man."


335-6611, extension 133

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