Cover photo for Mary Lee (Owens)  Penton's Obituary
Mary Lee (Owens)  Penton Profile Photo
1941 Mary 2022

Mary Lee (Owens) Penton

January 1, 1941 — January 20, 2022


Mary Lee Owens Penton, 81, of Amarillo, Texas, died Thursday, January 20, 2022.

A memorial service is scheduled Saturday, February 19, 2022, at Diversity Church, 5631 Pavillard Dr at 11:00 AM.  The service will be led by Pastor Mark England, who was one of the countless Coronado Elementary students whose lives were changed by Mary Lee’s steady belief in their potential.

Mary Lee was born January 1, 1941, in Monroe, Louisiana, to William Alexander Owens and Mary Ann McSpadden Owens. Her dad’s job as an airplane mechanic took them to San Antonio, after which Mary Lee and Mary Ann moved to Amarillo to be near family.

Mary Lee lived with her mom, her grandmother, her great-grandmother, and her aunt on a farm near present-day 34th and Grand. Her grandmother rented barns to a racehorse breeder, and Mary Lee enjoyed riding horses around her rural childhood playground.

She and her mom then moved “in town” to an apartment on Polk Street. Mary Lee attended Amarillo High School, graduating in 1958 — “the classiest of classes,” she notes. While in high school, she also attended the impressively named John Robert Powers School of Modeling, which led to jobs being professionally pretty for White & Kirk and other Amarillo stores.

Mary Lee attended West Texas State University in Canyon, where she met Jim Farren. They married in 1959 and moved to Albany, Oregon; her first son, Steve Farren, was born in 1960. Mary Lee worked for the Albany Parks and Recreation department, helping expand the city’s public outdoor spaces. She was also once featured in the Albany newspaper on account of being exceptionally tall. The article’s author noted that she was “attractive and slender” and of sufficient height to change light bulbs without a ladder — just a few of the many traits she passed along to her sons.

Mary Lee returned to Amarillo in 1970, later marrying Don Shumaker. The couple welcomed her second son, Justin Shumaker, in 1974. Around the same time, she began a long and influential career at the Maverick Boys Club. Hired as secretary to the director, Mary Lee went on to serve in a variety of roles at the club, including interim director. During her time at the Maverick Club, she personified its mission of showing boys from sometimes difficult backgrounds that they could become kind, honest, loyal, and responsible citizens. She remained an active supporter of the Maverick Club for the rest of her life.

Mary Lee continued her love of helping children with a second career at Coronado Elementary School. Her official role was educational support, working with kids who had special learning needs. But she also did a bit of everything — organizing the annual spelling bee and helping the contestants practice; designing bulletin boards throughout the school with her natural artistic touch; patrolling the cafeteria and playground with a firm hand and a smile; and keeping everyone in line with her signature mix of unvarnished directness, wry humor, and love. During her time at Coronado, she survived breast cancer and provided an example of bravery and determination, returning to her students as soon as she was able.

After retiring, Mary Lee focused on the things she’d always loved. She took RV trips with family to Fun Valley, Colorado. She rescued and revitalized antiques. She kept her front yard and back yard filled with flowers, plants, and assorted whimsy. She loved her growing family and lifelong friends and endless parade of pets. She made a very huge deal out of Christmas. And she pursued a full understanding of her roots through genealogy, culminating in the discovery of a sister, Elaine Birkhead, whom she met for the first time when Mary Lee was 62. This began two decades of friendship between sisters who shared a strong connection from the start.

In 2015, Mary Lee married Billy Penton. The couple enjoyed years of traveling across the country, antiquing, and building a new life together on their land west of Amarillo. They transformed their homestead into a beautiful retreat for family and friends, and a perfect reflection of their love and shared interests. Mary Lee discovered a new level of happiness while piloting her riding lawnmower for hours across their acres of Panhandle grassland. And she and Billy showed that new love, joy, and contentment can be found at any stage of life.

Mary Lee is survived by her husband, Billy Penton, who loved and cared for her with inspiring tenderness and devotion; son, Steve Farren, and his wife, Nancy, of Amarillo; son, Justin Shumaker, and his wife, Rachel, of Austin; sister, Elaine Birkhead, of Georgetown; granddaughter, Leigh Anne Williams, and her husband, Jonathan, of Amarillo; granddaughter, Lara Farren, of Lubbock; granddaughter, Ella Shumaker, of Amarillo and Denton; great-grandsons, Afton and Jude Williams of Amarillo; stepson, Rod Penton, and his wife, Angela, of Hereford; stepson, Billy Glynn Penton, of Iowa; and numerous cousins from the extensive McSpadden family tree.

Those who knew Mary Lee will remember her for many things. Her devotion to kids and unwavering advocacy for their opportunities to learn. Her fierce loyalty to those she loved. The unique touch she brought to beautifying her world. Her tendency to speak her mind plainly at all times. But mostly, we’ll remember her for…her tendency to speak her mind plainly at all times. Oh, and love. She loved well. And she was well loved.

The family suggests that memorials in honor of Mary Lee be sent to the Maverick Alumni Association, Diversity Church of Amarillo, or the American Cancer Society.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Mary Lee (Owens) Penton, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Memorial Service

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Starts at 11:00 am (Central time)

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