Penn joined Laborers’ Local 362 in 1965 and was elected Secretary-Treasurer in 1974. He then became Business Manager in 1976 and in 1994, Penn was elected Business Manager of the Great Plains Laborers’ District Council where he served in the position until becoming LIUNA Vice President and Midwest Regional Manager.
In addition to his many union roles, Penn is also Co-Chair for the Children’s Christmas Party for Unemployed Families; He has re-established the Bloomington Labor Day Parade after a forty-year absence; Began the McLean County Union News; is a Board Member on the Bloomington/Normal
Advantage; Volunteers for the Illinois Special Olympics and is currently on the statewide board; Board Member of the McLean County Economic Development Council of Community Enhancement and Advocacy.
In 1986 Penn was honored by Governor Thompson was presented the Illinois Partner in Building Better Communities award for taking a leading role in his community and “Bringing jobs to the jobless.” In addition, in 2003, Penn received the Presidential Points of Light Award from President Clinton. This award was created in 1989 to recognize those who take direct and consequential voluntary action in their communities to solve serious social issues.
Penn is a 1979 graduate of the Harvard University Trade Union Program and graduated from Bloomington High School. He served in the United States Air Force, with assignments in South Korea and Vietnam.
John and his wife, Mary, reside in Bloomington, Illinois and have one daughter, three grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.