May 1948: J.C. Penney speaks at Baptist banquet

Posted 5/31/19

The founder and namesake of J.C. Penney Company was the guest speaker at a men's fellowship banquet held at Jasper First Baptist on May 27, 1948. A public program that followed the banquet was …

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May 1948: J.C. Penney speaks at Baptist banquet


The founder and namesake of J.C. Penney Company was the guest speaker at a men's fellowship banquet held at Jasper First Baptist on May 27, 1948. 

A public program that followed the banquet was billed as Penney's only public appearance while he was in town to recognize local Penney store manager Bob Bruner for leading the store with the highest percentage of gain among Penney stores in the state in 1947.

"The First Baptist Church is fortunate in securing Mr. Penney for this occasion. Not only is he one of the most successful businessmen in America today but one of the great Christians of the world. He is a Baptist layman who is vitally interested in the work of the church," the Eagle reported on May 20, 1948.

The article, which seems to have been submitted by the church, also notes that the church had the unusual experience of receiving three new members over the age of 80 on a recent Sunday: J.A. Sumner, 91; Mollie Burton, 81; and her sister, Anna DeWeese, 82. The sisters had been affiliated with the Gamble Mines church until it disbanded several years before, and Sumner had been a Baptist deacon for over 50 years.

On May 27, the Eagle ran a front page story about Penney's scheduled appearances: the banquet in the church basement and a public speech in the auditorium on Thursday and a civic lunch on Friday at the Collins Hotel. The speech at the hotel was taped for a delayed broadcast over local station WWWB.

Penney was also expected to wait on customers at the local Penney store, which was located on the courthouse square.

The Eagle reported that Penney was born on a farm near Hamilton, Missouri, and his father was a part-time preacher and farmer.

"Young Penney announced to his father one day that he needed a new pair of shoes, his father replying that in the future he, at the ripe old age of eight years old, would have to buy his shoes with the money he earned. Young Penney went his father one better shortly thereafter, however, as he took on the additional responsibility of providing his own clothes — from money he earned raising pigs," the article stated.

His first retail job was in a store in Hamilton, where he earned $25 per year.

When his health took a turn, Penney moved to Colorado and started a butcher shop, which failed.

He opened his first store in Kemmerer, Wyoming, a frontier mining town with a population of 1,000. From this, the Penney chain was born. 

In 1948, the company had 1,600 stores, employed 70,000 salespersons and had $800 million in sales.

At the church, Penney spoke on "Christian Principals in Business."

He gave six tips for young men starting out in business. Prepare for the business or profession. Work hard to establish and build the business. Be honest in all business dealings with customers, associates and employees. Have confidence in one's fellow man, showing one's associates that this confidence is present. Appeal to the spirit of one's employees and business associates as well as their secular side. Make a daily application of the Golden Rule.

At the civic luncheon, Penney spoke on "The American Way" and stressed the importance of Christian principles to the nation and its people.