Two legends have died in recent days here in LA — artist Mike Kelley and “Soul Train” creator/host Don Cornelius. Since I came to LA from Chicago two months ago, two legendary people, in their own rights, have died from my hometown. The first was artist Lee Groban. The second is a man named John Pennycuff — a gay rights activist, community builder, and all-around nice person and energy-sender. His memorial is currently happening in Chicago at the Jaeger Funeral Home, 3526 N Cicero, until 9pm.
Before midnight last night I saw an email newsletter from 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colon in my inbox. Knowing that John normally sent those out, I sadly opened it, knowing that I would read a tribute from Ald. Colon:
I was deeply saddened by the news that John Pennycuff passed away last Sunday January 29, 2012. He was 47 years-young and a life-long resident of Logan Square. John was educated at Monroe Elementary, Taft High School, Badger High School in Lake Geneva and Columbia College. John was made aware of a serious illness only a few short months ago. I met both John and his now husband Robert Castillo in the late 90’s after I was first approached by local residents to run for alderman. John and Robert both grilled me on Gay, Lesbian and Transgender issues of which at the time, I knew nothing. I credit them both for educating me and always making sure that my decisions were inclusive of everyone. I sincerely appreciate the unconditional support they both have given me throughout the years.
This Windy City Times article released on the day of his passing lists many of John’s accomplishments and affiliations including: The Mayor’s Advisory Council on LGBT Issues, Queer Nation Chicago Member, Windy City Media Group’s Office Manager, ACT UP Volunteer and the 2003 Induction into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame to name a few. John was a Unity Park Advisory Council volunteer. He coordinated the Logan Square Farmer’s Market for the Chamber of Commerce. John also maintained the 35th Ward Website and was responsible for sending out this very Newsletter each week.
My heart is heavy because John was a good friend who I will dearly miss. For those who never knew him, John Pennycuff was the nicest man you could ever hope to meet. He was the model, non-violent activist who quietly but effectively served the communities he loved through action more than words.
I interviewed John Pennycuff and his partner/husband Robert Castillo a handful of times over the years; they were the neatest couple — not just a neat gay couple — but a neat couple because they were partners not just in life, but for social justice. One piece I did for Time Out Chicago in 2005 was about the work that John did advising Mayor Daley on the issues of the gay community in Chicago as a member of the city’s Advisory Council on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues. Here is an excerpt:
John Pennycuff, a member of the advisory board since 1999, married his partner in San Franciso in 2004, a union that has since been legally revoked (they’ll be framing, not cashing the refund check). Pennycuff says that the group of LGBT advocates has had a big effect on Mayor Daley, who has voiced his support of gay marriage in recent years. “Before, he said just ‘gay and lesbian,’ but now he says ‘gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender,’ which is big,” Pennycuff says. “And at the reception he sees people with their kids—and he loves kids—and I think that has a big impact on him.”
You will be missed John. Rest in peace.