This story originally aired on June 22, 2019.
Jon McCollum (AKA Jon Boy) and Penny Reagan (AKA Momma Penny) have the kind of unlikely friendship that only a hectic kitchen job could foster. They worked together for food services at the University of Washington, and they hit it off right away.
At the time Jon Boy had just moved from Texas, and he impressed Penny with his knowledge of country music — particularly the old stuff she loves, such as Glen Campbell and Buck Owens. Jon came to think of Penny as his “kitchen mom;” he’d come to her for advice, she’d come to him for a good laugh. He liked to tell her about being in country bands back in Texas, and she liked to talk about her kids and her late husband, Ricky. And that’s how it went for about two years.
But then, Jon Boy needed a change. He put in his notice and took the last of his vacation days. Without meaning to, he missed his last shift with Penny and they didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. Penny was used to that by now, though. She’d worked at the same place for more than 44 years and had seen a lot of people come and go.
After leaving his job, Jon Boy had what he describes as the worst six months of his life: he went through a messy break up, he got in a car crash, his cat died. After a while he didn’t know what to do, so he did what any good country musician does: he wrote a song about what he was feeling. At the time, he missed his friend Penny, and wondered what advice she’d have for him in his time of need.
Jon Boy wrote the song “Penny” in honor of his beloved kitchen mom:
O Momma Penny, 39 years working for the state
Buried her husband, but I’m a lightweight
Talkin’ ’bout my heart, and what I know of pain
But with your help I’ll set me straight.
Afterwards he started a new country band called The Prairie Fire, and recorded an album. The song “Penny” is the first track.
Producer Bethany Denton sat down with Jon Boy and Momma Penny as he shared the song with her for the first time.
Penny Reagan works at the University of Washington and Jon Boy McCollum fronts the Seattle band The Prairie Fire.