"I try to take the positive attitude, and I don't take it personally. I tell the customers when they're upset, 'We just need to solve this problem.' Sometimes they'll come to the counter and I'll say, "What can I do to make you happy today?' And they'll say, 'Well, give me service.'"
- Martha Penrose, 79,Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. customer advisor
Pinned to the wall of Martha Penrose's work desk is a quote by 1960s pastor Chuck Swindoll:
" ... We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on one string we have, and that is our attitude. ... We are in charge of our attitudes."
As a customer advisor at Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. for almost 25 years and a Juneau resident for 30, this faithful, patriotic, firecracker of a grandmother has truly embodied these words. She will celebrate her 80th birthday Thursday - at work.
"To be physically able to work full-time at 80 is a real blessing," Penrose said. "To have my customers and co-workers want me to be there serving them is very satisfying. And to have a company that isn't pushing retirement and shows appreciation for my contributions to the company and its customers is encouraging."
AEL&P President Tim McLeod said to know Martha is to love her.
"She is always pleasant, positive and one of the most generous people I have ever known," he said. "As an employee of our consumer services department, Martha is a perfect fit. She has a natural ability to carry out her professional responsibilities from a consumer advocate perspective. We congratulate Martha on her 80th birthday and her 24 years with AEL&P."
Known also for her community service, Penrose has served as voting precinct board chairman, Pioneer Home Advisory Board member, Sunday-school teacher, Blood Bank of Alaska donor and coordinator, and volunteer at the governor's annual Christmas Open House. Last December, Penrose was made an honorary lifetime member of the Capital City Republican Women for her 30 years of service.
Aside from helping wherever she can, such as organizing gift boxes for troops overseas or donating to charities, Penrose even finds time to visit her 100-year-old former mother-in-law at the Juneau Pioneers' Home.
"One thing that blesses a giver is to have a gracious receiver," Penrose said. "Even receiving can be a gift to another."
Gayle Wood, director of Consumer Affairs for AEL&P, said Penrose is a firecracker, "full of fun and mischief."
"She knows how to shoot a rubber band - and is often right in the middle of a quick volley," Wood said. "She is a very good listener and is a calming influence. She is always kind and thinks about what is fair in all situations."
Penrose also "gives the best hugs" - and might even offer you one if you look like you need it, Wood said.
"Martha maintains rich and long-term friendships," she said. "She befriended a fellow who was first a customer. Eventually he turned out calling her 'Mom' - and she was just that until his untimely death."
Penrose has four children, 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. At present, two children, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren live in Juneau.
"Her contributions to her kids, grandkids and great-grandkids are nothing short of amazing," Wood added. "Her love and support for them is a big part of who Martha is. She's their best cheerleader."
In essence, Penrose tries to live her life fully, faithfully, respectfully and joyfully for her family and her community, she said.
"You ask why. I ask why not," Penrose said of her community service. "There was a need, I was there. I do what I can and ask for help with what I can't.
"I believe that the good Lord expects us to help one another. I also believe that the people I have helped would love to help me if I ever need it. I choose to love people and expect the best from them."
For now, Penrose is looking forward to becoming a member of the Juneau Pioneers' Home.
"I would love the Juneau Pioneers' Home as a place to live out my years when I will need assistance that my family would find difficult to provide," she said. "As a member of the Advisory Board, I have toured all six of the Pioneer Homes and can tell you that they are run by people who know what they are doing and care deeply for the elderly."
As for work, Penrose's 25th anniversary at AEL&P will come this December, but she told the management she'll let them know then if she plans to retire.
"Since I have always approached life trying to enjoy each day, I have not looked forward to retirement as the beginning of life," Penrose said. "When it comes, it will just be another phase of my life with unexpected challenges and opportunities."
Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at firstname.lastname@example.org.