Walter Penny is living the life of a ‘well-kept’ man. He’s a PTHS alumni and one of the funniest most genuine people to walk the face of the earth. He’s like finding the shiny penny among a mountain of dull, tarnished coins. It would be an understatement to say ‘what a wonderful life’ Penny has etched out for himself and his two companions.
After graduating high school, Penny left for Indiana University to continue his studies and pursue higher education. He completed his degree from Murray State University and “before the ink was dry on my diploma, I was a thousand miles away.” said Penny.
Upstate New York was his first adventure. He started working at a summer camp and after honoring his commitment, he and a buddy left for Seattle, Washington. They hit a bump in the road...a glitch, shared Penny. ”We ran out of money in Colorado and I’ve called Denver home ever since.”
Colorado has an amazing landscape. The beautiful state boasts desert-like terrain, river canyons, and the snow-covered Rocky Mountains. World-class skiing is part of the allure of Colorado. Mountain skiing in Aspen, Vail, and Breckenridge attracts visitors from all over the world. Penny landed a job at one of the Colorado ski mountain shops and managed all of the marketing and advertising for Christy Sports, one of the large ski and snowboard rental and retail companies. Penny said, “ Not bad for a ski bum who started off on the showroom floor selling ski gear.”
Norma is Penny’s better half. They met in Colorado at a place called Deli. “I’d driven my motorbike down there to read my book club homework. I saw her in line while I was buying a Yahoo and a Blow Pop. I kept reading the same sentence over and over and finally said to myself…’I’m not going to be the guy that wonders what if.’ So, I got up and said ‘hello’. Shortly after, the two were married. That was 20 years ago.
While in Colorado, Penny started dreaming about owning his own company and getting a dog. He hit the jackpot marrying Norma and it was time to make his other dreams a reality.
At the time, Penny was working for a pest control company. “I’ve always wanted to strike out on my own with a small business and I’ve always wanted a dog.” As Penny was working the sales angle at Terminix he ran across an article on bed bug dog in a trade magazine.
“As an industry insider, I knew bed bugs were going to be mainstream soon and well...bed bug dog.” said Penny. After some research, Penny got his dog, Macaroni, started a company called Colorado Bed Bug K9, and before you know it, his famous bug sniffing dog and company were all over the place. The business became known as the ‘Home of Macaroni the bed bug beagle.’
Penny said business was slow at first and then took off. He made the Denver Post in 2009 as the bed bug problem was growing. Penny and his beagle Macaroni worked in the Denver area and inspected homes, apartment buildings, and hotels for infestations. The duo became celebrities and heroes for those living with the pesky pests.
The family of three have been living overseas for a few years. Norma is a FSO (Foreign Service Officer), a diplomat that works for the US Embassy. Their first post was in Caracas, Venezuela. It was here in Caracas that Penny had to leave Venezuela under an ‘Ordered Departure.’ The order required that Penny leave alone, without Norma and Macaroni. “Norma had Macaroni shipped to me shortly after the ‘Ordered Departure’ and we spent three months living in an Airbnb in Miami.” said Penny.
The rental property in Miami was located in a Cuban neighborhood. “My neighbor didn’t speak any English but every morning when I was outside on my deck chair starting my day, she would send her little boy over with a Cuban coffee and a biscotti. He loved Macaroni and would hang out with us while I sipped my coffee.” This is classic Penny...always a friend to all.
Like Penny, Macaroni is well-traveled and a friend to all. At the Embassy in Caracas, weekly visits were almost mandatory for five or six of the bureaucratic offices that needed ‘mental health’ breaks and desirable dog therapy. Penny said that diplomats across the world have difficult jobs protecting the homeland. They represent the home country, handle major diplomatic affairs, and preserve the rights of citizens abroad.
After Caracas, Penny, Norma, and Macaroni moved to Copenhagen, Denmark. It was the summer of 2019 and their second post. Copenhagen, like Denmark, was ‘so wonderful and challenging for very different reasons,’ said Penny. “Both have amazing things to do, see, and experience.”
In fact, one of those amazing things to do was visit Legoland in Billund, Denmark. Penny is a ‘huge’ Lego fan. There was a hiatus from ‘Lego love’ after childhood just up until the Lego movie came out in 2014. Penny said that after the movie, he and Norma stopped by Barnes and Noble. Norma encouraged him to buy a set. “After that it was like being on Alderaan...I was hooked.”
Penny has a collection of Legos in the tens of thousands. During his travels he’s acquired so many that most are in storage. After all, Denmark is the home of Lego. Last year, Norma gave Penny a birthday present from Lego heaven...a weekend at Legoland and Lego House. Even Macaroni attended the party.
So many things to do abroad. The pair enjoy Formula 1 racing. On their honeymoon they attended their first Grand Prix of Monaco. After that, Penny said they were ‘all in.’ The two have been to just under 10 races all over the Western Hemisphere. In 2018, they traveled to Marseille, France to watch the French Grand Prix.
Other activities enjoyed and pursued by Penny and Norma include fine dining. They’ve dined at the French Laundry in southern California and Noma in Copenhagen. “You haven’t lived until you’ve tried duck brain tartare served in the skull of duck.” explained Penny.
For those that know Penny well, you may be interested to know he’s picked up a little game called ‘Dungeons and Dragons.’ He said, “I just started playing with a friend from the Embassy. It’s quite the learning curve but I have a great time as Praedo, the rogue half-elf,” chuckled Penny.
It may seem that Penny has a lot of free time on his hand, and in fact...he does. He’s one of those ‘rare non-working male EFM (Eligible Family Members).’ He said that most EFM’s are women therefore, these women are his friends. They go to lunch, museums, sightsee, and play Pokemon Go. Penny has friends all over the world which makes this particular virtual game so much fun. He said, “just the other day, we went to an amusement park, Tivoli, and I rode all the scary rides ALONE.” One of the friends was pregnant and the other too afraid.
One of the most difficult aspects of life overseas is not seeing family. Penny’s mother died last year and his dad is now living alone. Norma’s parents live in Denver and they worry about their aging family. Penny said it’s not difficult for him and Norma to jump on a plane if necessary. However, COVID-19 has made travel more challenging.
According to Penny, Denmark did an excellent job squashing COVID-19 from the start. He said the Danish were very successful early on putting mandatory safety guidelines and protocols in place. Because of these measures, the trio have traveled Denmark during a two week vacation and had lunch in Germany. Masks are required inside, outside, and on all public transit.
Penny misses the little things from home like the ‘location and operation of light switches, large refrigerators, and the random way doors open.’ He misses comfort food like spaghettios, Jif and Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream pies.
The next post will take place the summer of 2021 in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. This will be their first three year tour. Penny is looking forward to visiting Galapagos, Patagonia, and the Amazon...all will be close and easily accessible. Penny said, “ the work is often difficult and challenging but in the long run, we wouldn’t trade it for anything.” What a life.