Nancy Penfold, who staked her own unique spot in Fort Lupton history as she presided over the city’s history museum for more than 30 years, died Sept. 9. She was 85.
Penfold, who was posthumously honored as the grand marshal of Saturday’s annual Trapper Days Parade, stepped down as Fort Lupton Museum curator in February.
“I’ve been thinking about retiring for a couple years anyway, because it’s time. I’m going to be 85 next month,” Penfold said at the time, “You need new blood, and I’ve been there for about a hundred years anyway,” she added with a laugh.
Nancy Davis was born March 9, 1926, to Ruby Frink Davis and Ernest Bennett Davis in Denver. She attended, Independence School then on to Fort Lupton Schools, graduating in 1944, she also attended the University of Wyoming. Nancy married Donald “Bud” Keith Penfold Dec. 9, 1945, in Fort Lupton. They remained and raised their family of three children in Fort Lupton.
Nancy had many roles throughout her life. She worked at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal during Word War II. She was a rural route mail carrier, a dental assistant and Weld County Mental Health peer counselor for 15 years.
But many will always remember her as the curator of the Fort Lupton Museum. It was a role that it turned out Nancy was born to do.
“I started as city historian in ’75,” Penfold said. “The city had to have a historian if they wanted to get in on grants for the (state) centennial and the (national) bicentennial. They appointed me historian because I had been brought up with history. My mother was a historian and I had been brought up with Fort Lupton history.
“They just started paying me. I worked the first 20 years at the city without pay,” Penfold added with a laugh. “We moved over to the old library. One of the deals when we moved was that they would be open five days a week.”
She knew the location was safe from the wrecking ball, because the historic building went up in 1929 in keeping with that era’s nationwide Carnegie model, if not his funding. (Carnegie libraries were usually built with money donated by businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. More than 2,500 Carnegie libraries were built, including 1,689 structures in the U.S. At the time, nearly half of all libraries in the U.S. were Carnegie libraries. Ed.)
“Carnegie didn’t build it, but they used his plan,” Penfold explained. “The local club ladies raised money for about three years to build that library. Before that, the library was in a dentist’s office in town.”
Helping raise the $8,000 stake to build the library was Thursday Afternoon Club member Ruby Frink-Davis, Penfold’s mother, with history of her own. The Frinks arrived in Fort Lupton in 1895, starting the historic Fort Lupton Canning Factory not long after. Built upon the site of former Silver State Creamery, the canning company celebrated the town in 1909 with a barbecue, tomato fights, dancing and a parade. That celebration grew into Trapper Days, another historic link to the city.
Nancy’s grandfather, W.H. Davis, came to Denver in the 1870s, en route to the California gold rush. After breaking a leg, he chose to stay in Denver and became a land developer, renovating farms and reselling them. One of those farms went to Penfold’s father, Ernie B. Davis, who met Ruby picking strawberries on the farm that the pair eventually raised Penfold and her siblings on. Nancy, baby of the Davis clan, came along in 1926.
“My father and mother both were active in the community,” Penfold said of her philanthropic roots.
“My mother was an invalid by the time I was 12, but she was still active, she was what my father called a “do-gooder.”
Nancy’s work went far beyond the museum. She served on “just about every committee the city has.” She was a 4-H, Brownie and Boy Scout leader and also taught Sunday school. In 2004, she received high accolades from the state, representing Colorado older workers in Washington, D.C., for Experience Works, a community-based national organization that helps older adults get training and placement for decent jobs within the community.
The award was just one of a string Penfold has received through the years, including a 1976 honor as Outstanding Citizen of Fort Lupton, 1982 and 1985 nods from the Greeley Tribune’s yearly Panorama series about people who make a difference in Weld County, 1985 Outstanding Weld County Woman, top honors at Trapper Days in 1987, and in 2003, Penfold won the Everett Hogelin Memorial Award, given by the Fort Lupton Fire Department to honor the year’s outstanding citizen.
“She’s been in the community her whole life, and loves people, as did her mom,” niece Marlene Steiber said when Nancy retired “Her mom and dad were both very active in the community, and I think that’s what got her started.”
“If it wasn’t for Nancy Penfold we wouldn’t have a museum,” current museum curator DebraRay Thompson said. “The city was given the arrowhead collection and certain items to start the museum, but without Nancy’s love of history and community and her and her family’s involvement, I don’t think we’d even have a museum.”
In addition to the Trapper Days parade honor, the city of Fort Lupton proclaimed March 5 of this year as Nancy Penfold Day.
A memorial service for Penfold, who is survived by her husband and two sons, is at 10 a.m., Sept. 15, at First United Methodist Church in Fort Lupton. Read Penfold’s obituary on page 10.
Additional reporting by Gene Sears.