John Arthur “Jack” Penrod (1913-2008)
Jack Penrod was a veteran of the MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion of the 15th International Brigade of the Spanish Republican Army during the Spanish Civil War. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and resided in Gainesville, Florida, where he was a Professor and then Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Florida. Jack died April 12th in Gainesville at age 94.
Jack was a true forever activist. Before Spain he had been a radical student leader at Penn, his alma mater. There he joined the Communist Party USA which he would leave and rejoin three times before finally parting from it. After Jack graduated from college he went on to work with Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) of the newly forming Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). He left union organizing to join the defenders of Spanish democracy in 1937.
Jack entered Spain, whose borders had been closed, by crossing the Pyrenees Mountains on foot by night with fellow volunteers. He led a sniper squadron in the MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion of the 15th International Brigade and saw action in major engagements including Teruel and Fuentes de Ebro. A high point was Smith’s Maneuver where Jack, comrade Len Levenson, and a handful of other snipers held off advancing fascist armies for hours. Jack was wounded and when he recovered became an ambulance driver until he returned to the U.S.
He was stationed in the Philippines during WWII where, when the war ended, he organized a cell within his army unit to work with the radical Philippine Huks (the Huks had fought the Japanese invaders in WWII and were leading the way on land reform) to agitate for U.S. withdrawal from the Philippines.
After WWII, Jack finished his doctorate on the G.I. Bill and became a professor of English. At the University of Florida, he won the Thomas Jefferson Award for excellence in teaching. In the 1950s, Jack worked against McCarthyist political repression of fellow professors. Later he helped to organize the faculty union at the University of Florida. He also helped to found a chapter of the United Nations Association and was a founder of the Unitarian Church in Gainesville.
He gave talks about the Spanish Civil War at area colleges, high schools, and at various functions. Recordings of two of his talks are in the collection of the Civic Media Center. He demonstrated against the war in Iraq, was a member of the Labor Party, organized for national health insurance (HR676), and wrote letters for political prisoners for Amnesty International. He was at it all the time.
He was a member of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and supported Carol’s radical women’s liberation work including letting the groups, Redstockings and Gainesville Women’s Liberation, store archival material in his house, donating to fund drives, editing drafts of tracts, getting library books, and staffing phone banks for a feminist scholarship fund.
He also volunteered as a reader for blind students, tutored ESL students, and served as a docent at the museum.
Jack and his first wife, Jane Penrod, who died in 1991--a great feminist, union organizer and environmental activist--had two daughters, Julie Penrod-Glen and Jill McGuire. He is survived by Julie and Jill, three grand children, three great grand children, and his second wife, Carol Giardina.
Jack supported the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB), the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA), and Forever Activists! Friends and Families of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (FFALB). He urged others to become active supporters of FFALB. Contributions in his memory can be made to FFALB. Send checks made out to Georgia Wever and mail to: FFALB, c/o Georgia Wever, 280 9th Ave., 7D, New York, NY 10001.
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