Louise (Penny) Voissem, 85, passed away on Sept. 1 at her home in St. Petersburg with her dear husband of 65 years, John Voissem, by her side, after bravely battling lung and brain cancer for the past four years. Born in Nanticoke, Pa. - the state that inspired the nickname by which she was known from the time she was a teen - “Penny” married John in Milwaukee, Wis. in 1953. So began a long adventure that revolved around their large and ever-growing family, their shared Catholic faith - and, always, plenty of dancing.
The latter was a passion of Penny’s early in life beginning with polkas, waltzes and two-stepping, and advancing to contra, round and taking up square dancing in her 60s - a pursuit that would take the couple across the country and even to Germany. They participated in nine national conventions including events in Orlando, Anaheim, San Antonio, Charlotte, Louisville, Detroit, Spokane, Springfield, and Cincinnati. Their time in Bavaria Germany was one of the best as they danced with many from across the world. Their travels gave them many sight-seeing opportunities that they’ve been able to share with friends and family.
In addition, Penny was always busy learning new things. She took up chair weaving, upholstery, sewing, photography, woodworking, scrapbooking, genealogy, and H&R Block tax preparation - also taking on various part-time jobs when her children had completed school, working for the Diocese of St. Petersburg at Holy Cross and as a postal worker for the Post Office. Through it all, she was a devoted and loving mother to five children (Debi, John, Kathleen, Janie and Lisa, who died from cancer in 2000, and their children’s spouses), as well as a proud and doting grandmother of 16 and great-grandmother of 10.
Penny married John when he had one more year of Marquette Engineering School to complete before moving the family to Minneapolis to begin his career as an engineer at Honeywell. Three years later, in 1957, they packed up their three little children and moved to Florida, where John helped to start the Honeywell Avionics Operation. By 1963, having welcomed two more children, Penny and John and their family of seven always made the most of the local surroundings. Water sports were essential to the Voissems. All five the children learned to swim at a young age at Pass-a-Grill Beach, and the family would regularly water ski, fish, boat, sail and scuba dive in the Gulf of Mexico.
Along the way, the Voissems participated in “clowning” at many area events. Penny and oldest child, Debi, provided the necessary needle, thread and material to make clown suits for the family and other clowns who entertained the kids at the Honeywell Christmas Parties, Festival of States parade and at local nursing homes. Their second-child, John, rode his unicycle at the Bayfront Center in the ’60s, while younger daughters Kathleen, Janie, Lisa joined Penny and John in one of the first Disney Parades in the early 1970s, pulling carts in the parade.
Penny derived immense joy from her children, her sons and daughter in-laws, and the offspring that for decades gathered in the couple’s home, especially for every Christmas and Thanksgiving (which often fell on her birthday, Nov. 24, for a double celebration).
Debi married Jim Bonsey and gave Penny and John three granddaughters: Victoria, Amy and Leah; John and his wife Mimi brought them two grandkids, Jay and Jenny; Kathleen and husband Greg Shaffer produced three more grandchildren: Jason, Nathan and Ashley; Janie and husband David Scheiber expanded the family ranks with six children, Valerie, Laura, Mollie, Julia, Emma and Davey; and Lisa and Steve Garling brought two boys in the world, Christopher and Matthew.
The family experienced profound sadnesses along the way - with Lisa’s death in 2000 after a valiant 12-year battle with cancer, lovingly cared for throughout by Penny; Jim Bonsey’s sudden passing in 2010, and the unexpected loss of Victoria’s dear husband, Steve Jiencke, earlier this year. But Penny’s resilience and deep faith carried her through as her clan continued to grow, not only with Debi’s second husband, Jim Spriggs, but with the great-grandchildren who brought her boundless happiness (in alphabetical order): Cecilia, Cohen, Evelyn, Everett, Gianna, Joshua James, Liam, Taylor, Veronica, Victoria, and two more on the way this February. She also had a special place in her heart for the spouses and significant others in the lives of her grandchildren: A. J. Freda (married to Amy), Hanna (married to Jay), Mary (married to Jason), Kaitlyn (married to Nathan), Donnie Sage (married to Ashley), Tony Mecca (married to Valerie), Christopher Waechter (married to Laura), Jared Young (married to Mollie), and Mark Scheidel (life partner of Leah).
Penny always made it a priority to help take care of her daughters and daughter-in-law as they began having their own children, and was there for the birth of each of her grandchildren. Until nearly the very end, even with her vision and balance deeply limited by cancer, and constant pain overtaking her body, she would manage a smile or wave to the new generation of little ones in her midst - and draw strength from the family that surrounded her with love, and that she loved back.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Louise Voissem’s name. Visitation will take place at Brett Funeral Home, Thursday, September 6th from 5-7 p.m., and the funeral will be at St. Jude’s Cathedral Chapel at 1 p.m. on Friday, September 7th.