Our hearts are broken. It’s with great sadness that we share the passing of Penelope P. Wilson, co-founder and constant guardian of Historic Sugartown. “Penny,” as we all knew her, co-founded Historic Sugartown with John C. and Peg Nagy in 1982. It all began when Penny and John met at a cocktail party, where, upon learning where the Nagys lived, she commented, “you live across from that crumbling, sad mess!”
From there, a friendship kindled that would result in the rescue of the seemingly forgotten and forlorn village of Sugartown. Penny recounted how she spent that first summer of Sugartown’s restoration sorting through the china that seemed to fill the buildings of the General Store Complex. She explained that the John family’s idea of security for their antique store was to spread the individual plates, cups and bowls throughout the building. She spent hours reuniting the sets to ready them for sale at the auction that Historic Sugartown held that year.
She also shared that she and John Nagy didn’t always agree on aspects of the restoration project. When it was suggested that they would gut the second floor of what we affectionately call “Building B,” which features a c. 1890 bathroom, Penny protested. She felt that few historic sites preserved such spaces, and that it was important to keep so people could understand the evolution of this part of daily life. Penny prevailed and the “Victorian Bathroom” remains a highlight for Historic Sugartown’s visitors.
Dale Frens, of Frens & Frens, LLC, who served as architect for Historic Sugartown’s restoration, shared that “Penny was generous with her time, her smile, and her ideas. Our first major project at Historic Sugartown, about 1990, was a master plan for the general store complex. As part of that project we prepared a rendering of the Sugartown Road facade of the row. The rendering was well received, so much so that John and Penny decided to auction it at the annual gala, then held at Radnor Hunt. No doubt as planned, Penny was the high bidder at $1500, and she promptly gave it back to Historic Sugartown, another act of her generosity.”
Above all else, Penny was passionate about making the preservation of Sugartown mean something. She wanted children to make connections between the past and today’s world. She wanted the community to discover Sugartown’s authentic historic setting and value the village in ways special to them. Penny was always in the background cheering our staff and Board on, offering her keen wisdom and perspective as we explored new ideas and planned new programs. Penny attended nearly every event. In 2019, Penny signed up to take Historic Sugartown’s bookbinding and paper marbling workshops. Ramon Townsend, our Bookbinder, described Penny as a quick study, with a voracious appetite for learning, and all the while offering thoughts and suggestions on how Bindery space could be improved for future programs!
Penny will always be remembered as Historic Sugartown’s angel – founder, benefactor and friend. Her bright shining light of philanthropy and sincere caring for Historic Sugartown, and for so many non-profit organizations in this and other regions of the country, will be sorely missed. Penny will forever occupy an important place in our hearts.
Our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences go out to her entire family and dearest friends.
-The Board of Directors & Staff of Historic Sugartown
“By standing at this crossroads of this wonderful village, you can feel the significance of how the lives documented by Historic Sugartown have impacted lives and learning into our present day . . .it gives a wonderful feeling just being there.” – Penelope P. Wilson, 2020