Family remembers Audrey Penn as a strong, loving woman
Editor’s Note: Audrey S. Penn, 78, of Bethlehem, was found Sept. 17 in Lower Macungie, after being reported missing Aug. 23 from Woodland Terrace at the Oaks in Salisbury Township.
After multiple searches by numerous volunteers and law enforcement agencies, it was a sad ending for many, especially her family, who had hoped to find Penn alive.
Penn’s children, Karl Kent and LaFond McRae, Karl’s wife Tracey and Penn’s grandchildren Taylor Kent and Armond McRae sat with The Press Sept. 23 to talk about their loved one.
“She was a strong, independent woman. I learned how to be strong,” LaFond said about her mother. “She told us not to depend on anyone but yourself. Take one day at a time and pray on it. Do the best you can. She worried about me because I was the only girl.”
“I learned a good work ethic from my mom,” son Karl said. “She often told me not to depend on someone else. She also taught me how to clean.”
“I really appreciate that,” Karl’s wife Tracey said.
“She raised five kids practically by herself,” Karl said. “She was a good listener, even when you thought she wasn’t listening.”
Audrey S. Penn was born in New York City to Othelma and Lily Shell. She was the oldest of five children and lived in Bethlehem prior to moving to Woodland Terrace at the Oaks in Salisbury Township in February.
Penn had five children, two stepsons, five grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
“When we were children,” Karl remembered, “we received a $5 allowance for doing our chores. If we didn’t do our chores, she would come home and get us out of bed to get the chores done.”
“We feared her; she was stern,” Karl recalled when he was growing up. If the children were grounded, they were grounded for 30 days with no television.
Audrey was known to “never say no” to her family. Taylor said she once mentioned to her grandmother that she wanted an ankle bracelet, so the two of them took a trip to Kay Jewelers.
“I’ll buy this for you, but don’t tell your dad,” Audrey told Taylor.
Audrey loved to travel and cruises were her favorite mode of travel. Her favorite trip was a cruise to Alaska, but she also enjoyed the trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando in 2003 with the family to celebrate her retirement.
She loved to cook, primarily vegetarian meals and was intent on eating healthy foods. She had tons and tons of cookbooks, family members said. She was always cooking for others.
“She loved chocolate peanut butter ice cream, cake and cookies,” Tracey said.
“She would hide them in her apartment,” Karl said, because she wanted everyone to think she only ate healthy foods.
Her catch phrase was, “Aw-shucks” and family members fondly recall the many Christmas Eve parties at her house.
Audrey worked two jobs to support her five children – four boys and one girl – as a nurse’s aide at Allentown State Hospital for 35 years until retirement in 2002 and cleaning offices. After her retirement, she worked as a private duty nurse for church members and even helped Tracey’s mom during her cancer battle.
She was an active member of St. Paul Baptist Church in Bethlehem and was involved in the nurse’s ministry where she would aid members of the congregation during services such as provide water, fans, tissues or care to those in need.
Audrey loved to walk and participated in a neighborhood walking group prior to moving into a memory care facility. She was a member of the YMCA in Bethlehem. She enjoyed going out to lunch.
She enjoyed watching her grandchildren play field hockey and football and attended numerous school activities. Armond said it was always great to see his grandmother in the stands during sporting events.
Audrey was a sleepwalker. In 2010, she fell down a flight of steps but was able to call her son Karl who then called 911.
“We believe she probably had a concussion,” LaFond explained. “We then started noticing her getting forgetful.”
Family members began noticing small things but Audrey would laugh off their concerns. But many times she would begin talking, not finish the sentence and start to laugh.
Once she drove on the wrong side of the road, according to a family friend. Karl said he noticed dents and scratches on the car but his mom would just shrug it off and say those must have happened in parking lots of stores.
In 2015, Audrey stopped driving, and in 2016 she was diagnosed with early stages of dementia.
Audrey and two of her siblings, Antonia Williams, of Bethlehem and Linda Steverson, of Whitehall, watched their own mother go through dementia and cared for her through the disease.
LaFond remembered her mother saying, “If I ever get like that, put me somewhere. It is too much work.”
Five months after her diagnosis, she told the family that a move to another apartment might fix her problem. The family hired caregivers to help her during the day and a family member stayed with Audrey at night.
As the disease progressed, Karl began researching online for facilities experienced with caring for dementia patients. He began receiving emails and telephone calls. He and LaFond visited six homes to find the perfect place.
“If they [the facilities] gave a price and I said we couldn’t afford it, they would drop the price. It was like dealing with a car salesperson,” Karl said.
The family decided on a facility in Northampton County.
“She liked it but thought it was going to be temporary until we found her an apartment,” Karl said.
“She would refer to other people there as patients,” LaFond said. “It was as if she was working as a nurse’s aide again, telling the patients to sit down.”
After two months, the family began looking for a new place a little closer to home. They looked at cleanliness, activities for stimulation and the ability to take Audrey out for day trips. They wanted a sufficient number of staff members to care for the residents, a memory care facility and assurances of safety and security, especially because of her tendency to sleepwalk.
They discovered Woodland Terrace at the Oaks, a senior living and memory care facility in Salisbury Township and Audrey went to live there in February.
Again, Audrey thought she was at work at Woodland Terrace at the Oaks. She was supervising a resident walking with a walker by watching and walking with her.
Karl called his mother one day and she said, “I can’t talk long, I’m busy.”
Finding a new facility was a relief to LaFond, who lives in New Hampshire. “It was good to know she was somewhere secure and safe with her sleepwalking.”
“I assumed they had enough staff to ensure her safety,” Karl said.
On Aug. 13, Karl picked up his mother and took her to church. She was in a good mood and happy to be out and at church.
At 8:30 a.m. Aug. 23, Karl received a call from the director of Woodland Terrace at the Oaks: “We can’t find your mom.”
She had apparently been put to bed at 3:30 a.m. and was discovered missing sometime after 5 a.m. when they began a search. Salisbury police were notified at 8:25 a.m.
A memorial service was held Sept. 25.