By: Karen Lozano
To some, when it rains, it pours. But if you’re Penny White, you keep pulling out that umbrella and finding a voice to make Gene Kelly proud.
Some may recognize White, 63, from her volunteer service at ShadowChase Running Club aid stations at local races.
“I love encouraging people when they’re running in,” she says. “I enjoy the positive attitudes and the energy from the races. The runners are all crossing the finish line with smiles on their faces … or not,” she laughs. “It’s hard to replace … you can’t replace that feeling.”
Or she might be recognized for her work manning the ShadowChase booth at various events all over town. “I get to encourage new members there, too,” she explained.
But serious White fans know that she’s a singer with the four-part female harmony group The Sensations. She has such a range in her voice she can sing soprano to alto and everything in between. White has sung the National Anthem at many events in town, such as Modesto Nuts baseball games, the Police Officers Memorial Run, and most recently at the Modesto Classic 5K put on by ShadowChase.
Those who know her well know that White is a fighter and a survivor. Life has not treated her gently. Yet where there has been rain she’ll probably tell you about the rainbows.
Many of us met White as a partnership with her late husband Wendell White. They ran the business Tees to Please, printing shirts to order for ShadowChase since 1991. Penny has since sold the business but holds the papers on it and works with its new owners.
Longtime club member Barbara Miller was a Realtor for the Whites. “She was always talking about the club. We started doing their shirts off and on over the years. Then Wendell decided to start getting healthy and began walking.” The Whites became ShadowChase members around 2000, she said.
The pair began like many – walking together. They eventually started running, participating in many one mile and 5K races. Wendell got serious about running and in 2013 ran the Modesto Marathon half. Tragically he was diagnosed with cancer shortly after and passed away in January 2014.
As ShadowChase members rallied around Penny White, helping her deal with her grief, fate dealt her another blow. She was diagnosed with breast cancer four months later. She has since tamed that beast, but the cancer metastasized into a brain tumor, which required surgery to remove, and most recently into the stomach.
White now has a feeding tube, but had an allergic reaction to something she was fed and landed in the hospital just before Christmas, where she stayed for a few days.
Through it all, she keeps battling and keeping up the positive spirit. That’s probably why she was voted Most Inspirational at the 2016 ShadowChase Awards Banquet. “I’ve gotten to know so many people and so many friends through ShadowChase,” said White. “If something happens I throw it out there and I get at least 100 responses on Facebook. “I haven’t had anyone in the club steer me wrong. It’s just fun to be part of this community,” she says.
As the dark clouds have begun to pass, White has gotten an unexpected bonus – a new husband who doubles as her own personal nurse, she laughs.
Penny first met Norman Fletcher when he was playing in a band with Wendell. “He was nice but I didn’t think much of it at the time,” she said. Fletcher, a registered nurse, had moved away to Albuquerque, N.M.
White reconnected with Fletcher after she fell ill and he called after seeing it online.
“After my brain surgery we talked every day,” she said. “We talked for hours! He came out for two weeks. Then, for my birthday I flew out there. Instead of flying back, we packed him up, rented a U-Haul and drove back.” They’ve taken it one step further and were married in early December.
So for now, White continues her fight and hopes to be strong enough to be singing once again, rain or not.
If you’d like to see a ShadowChase Running Club member profiled in the Volunteer Spotlight, please email Karen Lozano at firstname.lastname@example.org.