TOPEKA — Topekan Peg Penry has just published her fifth book of poetry, this one a collection of religious verse she has written through the years.
At 92, she said publishing the book was something she just had to do.
"At my age, you may not believe this, but I'm in pain all the time," said Penry, who lives at the Atria Hearthstone community in west Topeka. "I told God, 'I'm ready to go — please take me quickly. But if you have a purpose for me, please tell me so I can do it.' "
Penry picked up her latest book, titled "Wings: Poems of Prayers, Pleas and Praise." This, she said, is what God wanted her to do.
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The books, which cost $8 each, were printed at a local Kinko's store. She said she started by ordering 50 copies, then upped it to 75. She only had 10 left on a recent day. A second printing is possible.
The new book is a compilation of spiritual and religious poetry that she included in her previous four books, plus "two or three" new poems, she said.
Based on the response she has received from family and friends, she said she is convinced God wanted her to share her religious poetry with others in a single volume.
"For years, I've wanted to do this," she said. "I thought, 'Well, I'd better hurry up — I don't think I have much time left.' "
Penry still holds membership in Westminster Presbyterian Church in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where she formerly lived with her husband, Wayne Penry. He died at age 93 in 2004 after a career in the U.S. Air Force.
She has two daughters, one of whom is Shirley Thurber of Topeka. Thurber and her family brought Penry to Topeka about 4 1/2 years ago.
As she has done in the many places she has lived around the world, Penry wasted no time getting involved in her community. In this case, it was the Atria Hearthstone complex, which has about 150 apartments.
Penry, who has been a host of poetry shows on radio and on television in previous places she lived, began contributing poetry to the monthly newsletter at Atria Hearthstone.
Some of her fellow residents have picked up copies of her book.
"One woman told me, 'Oh, I love your book,' " Penry said. "She said, 'I read it over and over again.' That made me feel so good, to know that someone read my poetry and understood — someone actually 'dug' it, as I like to say."
Penry, who has seven grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild, said one of the most memorable experiences she had with her poetry came during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s when one of her writings fell into the hands of a soldier's wife at a program Penry presented.
The woman tucked the poem, which was spiritual in nature, into a letter she sent overseas to her husband.
"He had completely lost his faith while he was in Vietnam because of all the stuff he saw there," Penry said. "But his wife later told me that her husband gave my poem to the chaplain, who made copies and passed them out to all the troops serving in the unit."
In summing up her motivation for her new book, Penry quoted from the final poem, titled "Finale."
"If I've shown care and compassion/Or made one tired heart smile/If God knows of my love for Him/Then I count my life worthwhile."