Kathryn “Kathy” Elizabeth Erwin Penningroth
- August 8, 2022
Kathryn “Kathy” Elizabeth Erwin Penningroth
On Friday, May 27, 2022, Kathryn Elizabeth Erwin Penningroth (“Kathy”), attended by her family, died of heart failure at The Bird House Hospice Home of Johnson County. There will be a service celebrating Kathy’s life from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 14, at the Kirkwood Room in Iowa City. Family and friends are welcome to share short stories and memories of Kathy between noon and 1 p.m. Thoughts may be shared with the family at www.lensingfuneral.com. Memorial donations may be made to The League of Women Voters of Johnson County and Planned Parenthood.
Kathy was a good, kind person with a wonderful sense of humor and beloved by many. She was a historian, an author, a community leader and a devoted mother and grandmother. She also made many life-long friends in fellow parents and others she met through her numerous activities. Kathy was born in 1940 in Cedar Rapids, the adored first child of George L. and C. Ann
Erwin. George was a captain in the U.S. Army and, as WWII progressed, the little family moved to Army bases in Texas and Oklahoma, where Kathy’s brother, George F., was born. Their father was posted to Europe later in the war and Ann, Kathy and George moved to Iowa City, where Kathy’s treasured Grandmother Smith and Aunt Kathryn lived. The third and youngest sibling, Jeffrey L., was born in 1948 after George Sr. returned to the U.S. The Erwins moved into their iconic house on Grande Avenue in Cedar Rapids and the scene was set for Kathy to succeed academically and participate in extracurricular activities, like Campfire Girls, that helped to mold her into the well-rounded young woman she became.
Kathy graduated from Franklin High School in 1957 and enrolled at the University of Iowa, where she blossomed. She was active in student government, was a member of the Delta Zeta sorority, performed as a member of the synchronized swimming group, “The Seals Club,” and excelled academically. She won scholarships and was also recognized repeatedly for her accomplishments in her major of speech pathology and
audiology. Finally, she was inducted into the prestigious academic honor society of Phi Beta Kappa. She graduated from UI in 1961. 1961 was also the year that Kathy married her first husband, Dr. R. Paul Penningroth. They welcomed the first of five children, Cindy, in 1962, and Kathy gave birth to four more daughters, Ann, Ellen, Kathryn, and Paige, over the ensuing years. Kathy loved her cackling brood of “the Penningroth girls” dearly and always put their wants and needs before her own.
The 1960s were a whirlwind of activity centered around supporting Paul in his burgeoning career as a psychiatrist. After Paul finished his residency at UI, he started his career by serving in the U.S. Army at Ft. Stewart, Georgia, bringing Kathy and the girls to live there on base before he was transferred to South Korea. While Paul was out of the country, Kathy moved back to Iowa City with the girls. From then on, Kathy resided in the Iowa City/Coralville area, where as an insanely active stay-at-home mom, she served too many causes to list here. Among those closest to her heart were the
League of Women Voters, the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, the Johnson County Historical Society, and the Iowa City Community School District. In fact, she counted as one of her biggest achievements her election to the School Board in 1984. Kathy returned to graduate school at UI to study for her master’s degree in history in 1986. Here she met the love of her life, Lee Anderson, and they were married in 1989. Along for the ride were Lee’s son, Cris, and their two dogs, Ginger and Annie. Both Kathy and Lee were devoted dog lovers (but, let’s be honest, Lee more than Kathy) and several dogs would join the family over time: Belle, Polly, Jumbo, Willie, Izzy and Maddie. And we cannot forget Belinda and Teddie, OG dogs to Kathy and the girls.
In 1992, Kathy and Lee formed a business partnership, A & P Historical Resources. With Lee as primary author and the intrepid Kathy as main researcher, the pair researched and wrote institutional histories, focusing on the health care professions. Kathy’s favorite book among their publications was, Complete in All Its Parts: Nursing Education at the University of Iowa, 1898-1998. An editorial review of the book captured one of Kathy’s central concerns, documenting the essential importance of women’s
accomplishments: “The detailed research and analysis in this work make a fundamental contribution not only to the history of nursing but also to the broader history of women’s work, the history of women in higher education, and the history of the health care professions.” As “Gram,” and sometimes as “The Graminator” when she got really serious, Kathy
treasured her seven grandchildren. Signature Gram moves included serenading the kids at bedtime and telling them stories; hosting years of holiday get-togethers, big and small, along with long-weekend getaways; leading annual shopping excursions to
Prairie Lights; preparing multitudinous batches of “Gram’s Brownies;” and convincing Pops to build a playhouse complete with crooked windows, heating and cooling and a loft.
In addition to being an amazing mom and Gram, Kathy also managed to squeeze in time for her own hobbies and interests, several of which (gardening, reading, crosswords, to name a few) she and Lee discovered they shared. In 2016, Kathy lost the love of her life when Lee passed away. She remained her steadfast self in the years to come, from logging in Gram hours to taking classes about brain development with Mrs. G, to palling around with her youngest daughter, Paige.
Kathy is survived by her daughters, Ann Penningroth (Thomas Kiefer) of Iowa City, Ellen Erwin of Minneapolis, MN, Kathryn Penningroth of Madison, WI, and Paige Penningroth of Cedar Rapids, IA; step-son Cris (Karrie) Anderson of Urbandale, IA; seven grandchildren, Jacob and Nate Petrak, Charlotte, Noah and Finn Hunsicker, Eli Moore, and Kellen Anderson; two sisters-in-law, Eileen Erwin and Kim Erwin; one niece, Elizabeth, and four nephews, George, Jonathan, James and Scott; and two cousins, Mary Beth and Victoria Kirkham. Kathy was preceded in death by her husband, her parents, her brothers, and her daughter, Cindy Penningroth.