Jeanne Penn Lane dies at 73 after lifetime of art, songwriting, family business and supporting creatives 

Published 8:45 am Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A sweet-as-honey, southern force 

One conversation with Jeanne Penn Lane, and it was easy to tell she was a songwriter. We first met about 14 years ago, within my first year of working for The Advocate-Messenger — covering the Great Outhouse Blowout is like a right of passage for any new reporter here.

“Words are music to the soul that makes my spirit dance. From the earliest memory of being a child, I wanted to be a dancer.”
Jeanne Penn Lane
Gravel Swtich

She took anyone new who came out to cover the race around the grounds at Penn’s Store, introducing them to the ones she knew would give great quotes. And she gave great quotes — I once told her the southern phrases just dripped off her tongue like honey, and she could persuade anyone to do anything for her. She laughed, and gave some witty retort in that beautiful, gravely voice. 

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Friday, Jeanne passed away at age 73. Anyone who knew her knew she was incredibly young for her age. She had told me about having cancer a while back, but didn’t want it to be public. She was a tough old broad, and didn’t relish the thought of anyone pitying her; that’s definitely not something she thrived on. Jeanne was strong and proud, and worked hard. 

Her daughter, Dawn Osborne, shares some history about Jeanne’s life. “But really, there’s so, so much more than this …” Dawn says. 

(Photos by Bobbie Curd)
Jeanne Penn Lane dances during a past Kentucky Writer’s Day celebration at Penn’s Store. She hosted several musicians and featured them in a showcase for singer/songwriters.

Jeanne grew up in Forkland and graduated from high school there, as well as from Eastern Kentucky University with a degree in art. She began the Title I Art Program in Boyle, teaching art for years locally and regionally. Eventually, her flair with words and lyrics landed her a career writing songs in Nashville, resulting in hits on the Billboard Top 40 — a gig that wasn’t so easy and mostly a male-dominated one. She also took on private clients as an artist and had several pieces commissioned. 

After leaving the industry, her focus became preserving the cherished historic Penn’s Store, the family business in Gravel Switch. Dawn points out that Jeanne’s approach in operating the store — she was the fifth generation to do so — created not only a local, statewide awareness of Penn’s, but a national one as well. The Outhouse Blowout began as a small fundraiser for Penn’s back in ’92. It grew from there, each year. 

Jeanne was known for bringing attention to musical talent and writers of all genres in Kentucky, and jumped on the bandwagon with the state-wide celebration of the Kentucky Writer’s Day, creating her own event which highlighted not only songwriters, but writers from all walks of life — even reporters. 

“You’re a journalist, Bobbie,” she said to me when I told her I wasn’t fit to join the writer’s day shindig as a reader. But, as always, she talked me into it. Her unwavering support of creativity is probably part of what kept her so young at heart — she loved to experience things through others’ words, and she lifted others up who were brave enough to share them.

Dawn was asked to share a memory about her mother. She says on a particularly difficult day, she was driving her mom to a hospital in Lexington, trying to find a way to get the excruciating pain she was in under control. 

“The pain, at that time, was nonstop. She said to me, ‘The most important thing I have accomplished in my life is you and Dava,'” Dawn says, referring to her twin sister, who died several years back. 

Dawn says in just that one sentence, it was everything she ever needed to know about her mother. 

Penn’s Store will go on, some way, some how, Dawn says. She just doesn’t know the way or how yet, as it’s only her left. “My daughter is 16 and getting ready for college, going into law. I’m looking at a long, lonely row to hoe for a pretty good while. But who knows — maybe by the time she becomes a successful attorney, she’ll have some good ideas. Like my mother.” 

Visitation for Jeanne will be 4-8 p.m. Wednesday at Preston Pruitt Spurlin Funeral Home, with burial to follow in Elder Cemetery. The funeral will be 1 p.m. Thursday. 

(Photos by Bobbie Curd) Jeanne Penn Lane loved her dogs, Bo and Girly Girl, and could be caught each year during the Kentucky Writer’s Day celebration stealing a moment to herself away from the crowd with them.