A former La Mesa-Spring Valley school board member criticized for her vote to keep a President Obama speech from being shown live in district schools died Wednesday of undisclosed causes.
Family members reported the death of Penny Halgren, who served on the K-8 school board for nearly 20 years before her sudden resignation in January 2013. She was about 65.
She was mourned by Rob Sauvajot, regional vice president of the YMCA of San Diego County.
According to East County Magazine, which was first to report her death, Sauvajot wrote to East County Family YMCA board members about Halgren’s “concern for our community and her generosity positively impacted hundreds of families we serve.”
Halgren, a former La Mesa resident, was on the La Mesa-Spring Valley school board from 1994 to January 2013, when she resigned to be with her boyfriend of three years, according to reports at the time.
“She said she is moving to Arcadia in Los Angeles County to be closer to Jim,” according to a Patch story.
She told Patch: “I’ve been dating a guy for about three years now and I went to college with him. After his wife died, he contacted me, and so we’ve been hanging around, and he’s been bugging me to move up there, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
In March 2013, the school board named architect Jerry Lecko to serve the remainder of Halgren’s term, which ends in December.
A Los Angeles native, Halgren studied business administration at the University of Southern California after attending Westchester Senior High School, according to her Facebook page.
East County Magazine reported Thursday that Sauvajot received news of Halgren’s passing from her daughter, Stephanie Halgren.
Stephanie wrote that “Jim and I were both with her and she passed as peacefully as she could have.”
She told of reading emails and hearing voice mail on her mother.
“It was such a humbling experience to hear how much she impacted so many lives in La Mesa and around the world with her work on the La Mesa-Spring Valley school board, YMCA board, Rotary, and her quilting business.
“She also enjoyed the flowers and plants that she received in her final weeks.”
No memorial service was planned, according to Halgren’s wishes, her daughter said.
“We will have a private scattering of her ashes on a beach in the Los Angeles area. In lieu of flowers, Penny would have appreciated gifts to the East County Family YMCA, one of her favorite charities.”
Five years ago this month, Halgren was part of the 3-2 majority that kept district schools from showing a live speech by Obama to schoolchildren around the country.
But she later apologized for that vote, telling U-T San Diego: “If I could roll back the clock and do it again, my vote would have been to show the speech live in our classrooms.”
The board voted 3-2 in a special Labor Day meeting to not show Obama’s speech the next day and instead record it for later viewing.
“Halgren crafted the motion after several others failed, including one to ban the speech entirely,” the U-T reported. Parents packed a later school board meeting to complain about the Obama ban.
“I didn’t understand that people thought it was more important for all the kids to see it live,” she would say. “I missed that totally. I thought it was more important to (have a) conversation around the content of the speech.”
When she left the board, fellow school trustee Bill Baber said: “She’s awesome. We’re totally gonna miss her. Good luck to Penny in her future endeavors. She was a strong advocate for our public schools. Her sharp mind and expertise in school finances will be missed.”