When Festival Village opens on Monday, June 29, Love City residents should plan on arriving early — Pennville just might be packed with family members of this year’s village honoree, James Penn, as they travel from Tortola and St. Croix to support the man who has worked hard for decades to ensure St. John Festival is a standout celebration.
Penn, who acted as Festival Committee chairperson for 17 years, and still supports the celebration as a member of the committee, was selected as this year’s Festival Village honoree in recognition of his decades of service.
“James Penn has been a longstanding member of the organization,” said Festival Committee Chairperson Leona Smith. “He used to have a booth in Festival Village and he’s always contributed in some fashion.”
The recognition is something Penn has anticipated for a long time, he explained.
“When you do something to the best of your ability, you know it will eventually happen,” said Penn. “When I took over as Festival Committee chairperson, we didn’t have anything. I made the parade bigger, and brought it from nothing to where it is today.”
During his 17-year reign as Festival Committee chairperson, Penn dedicated hundreds of hours of sweat equity to making sure St. John Festival was something to talk about.
He volunteered himself, his friends and his backhoe to hang the flags which line Cruz Bay streets during Festival. He also helped set up chairs at the Winston Wells ball field for the queen and princess shows, and encouraged greater press coverage of Festival activities.
“There used to be no radio broadcast from the parade,” said Penn. “The first year I took over, I called Addie Ottley and said, ‘I need coverage.’ I paid the cost that year for them to come over, and now we have three radio stations covering the parade.”
The village honoree saw the importance of continuing the celebration that has brought Love City residents together for more than half a century, he explained.
“If I didn’t do it, we wouldn’t have had anything,” said Penn. “Something is better than nothing. If I do anything, I do it right.”
For Penn, giving back to the island he grew up on is a simple fact of life.
“If you get, you’re supposed to give back,” said Penn. “We need to go back to volunteerism and fundraising.”
Although the accolade was expected for Penn, he is happy for the recognition, he explained.
“I want to get my flowers while I’m alive, not when I’m dead,” said Penn. “It’s a good thing.”
Committee members choose each year’s Festival Village honoree based on their participation in the village and contribution to both the committee and the community.
“He’s a hardworking man and he deserves to be honored,” said Smith. “It was long awaited.”
Penn is looking forward to celebrating the ribbon cutting and dedication of the village with his family members, he explained.
“My family alone could fill the village,” he said with a smile.