Manitoba Historical Society
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Memorable Manitobans: James Russel “Jim” Penner (1939-2004)

Grocer, MLA (1999-2003), community activist.

Born at Rosthern, Saskatchewan on 4 September 1939, son of Jacob Albert Penner (1914-1967) and Esther Margaret Buhler (1915-2001), he moved to Manitoba with his family in 1946 when his father bought a small grocery store in Steinbach. In 1958, he married Beverly Reimer with whom he went on to have three children. He studied sociology at Trinity International University in Chicago and earned a Bachelor’s degree. Upon graduating, his plan was to continue his studies abroad and pursue a career in academics but, due to his father’s failing health, instead returned home in 1962 to help run the family store.

He proved to be a skilled businessman and, with his staff, grew the company from a one-store enterprise to one of Canada’s most successful independent grocers, Penner Foods Limited. Eventually, the company consisted of six stores that employed more than 800 people across Manitoba. The chain developed a reputation for superior service and as one of the best places to work in Manitoba. During his 36 years as President of the company, he and his employees won local, provincial, and national awards for quality service and retail excellence, including Independent Grocer of the Year.

After selling Penner Foods in 1998, he ran successfully in the 1999 provincial general election for the Steinbach constituency, and in that capacity served as opposition critic for Consumer and Corporate Affairs and Finance. In 2001, he was honoured as the Variety Club Humanitarian of the Year and also received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Trinity Western University. He did not stand for re-election in 2003. Instead, he taught free enterprise in Russia, worked with the Mennonite Economic Development Association in India, and served on Trinity Western University’s Board of Governors. He was actively involved in organizations such as the Association for Community Living and the Variety Club. Throughout his life, he gave generously to charities, and enjoyed travelling and spending time at the family cottage at Falcon Lake.

He died at Steinbach on 17 January 2004 and was buried in the Steinbach Heritage Cemetery.


Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 21 January 2004.

Jacob Barkman 1765-1820 family tree, Ancestry.

Jim Penner, Wikipedia.

This page was prepared by Lois Braun.

Page revised: 21 November 2020

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. We acknowledge that the collection contains both reputable and disreputable people. All are worth remembering as a lesson to future generations.

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