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Profile: Elaine Penn of the Pan Dragons

Elaine Penn fills an important role with St. John's youthful Pan Dragons.When you hear the Love City Pan Dragons pinging away, you’re sure to see Elaine Penn playing the scratcher or keeping tabs on the nearly three dozen kids who belong to St. John’s youthful steel pan group.

Penn began volunteering when her daughter Audrey Penn, now an adult, was a member. That was in 1999, but Penn stayed on as board secretary and volunteer. She gave up the secretary’s post last year, but she’s still around.

"I like the music and the interaction. I’ve built a network of friends inside the Pan Dragons," she said.

She also likes working with the equipment – setting up the pans, moving the pans around, polishing the pans, and doing whatever needs doing.

"I’m basically a glorified roadie," she said.

The Pan Dragons keep her busy. When the Pan Dragons have a morning performance, she’s up early to help get the day organized, she goes to the practices and she’s on hand when they perform at various functions.

Penn has watched many Pan Dragon kids grow up.

"When I go into a store or the bank, kids who were in diapers are now behind the counter," she said, laughing.

Penn, 62, first came to St. John in 1979 from her native Connecticut to visit a long-gone boyfriend. She met people who are still her friends. In 1984, she made a permanent move.

"I felt totally at home right away," she said.

Her daughter was born in 1985.

While many of the challenges of living on St. John are long gone thanks to improved technology, Penn said the high cost of travel to the mainland is a frustration.

"I love being here but I don’t get away from here very often," she said.

A self-employed bookkeeper, Penn works for several clients. She’s often at Great Dane guidebook, Andrew Barlas construction company and Bajo el Sol Gallery. And she does the books for the Ruby Rutnik Scholarship Fund.

"They’re all different so it keeps things interesting," she said.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from New Jersey’s Drew University. After graduation, she worked in community development and at a center for people who are mentally challenged. She spent a few years at that career, but soon decided to become a potter, a career she followed until she moved to St. John.

Like many transplants from the mainland, Penn worked here and there in retail sales and other jobs. A job in Guavaberry Farms gardens grew into a bookkeeping career, and she’s freelanced for the past 10 years.

Penn has no plans to retire. Laughing, she said she’s self employed so she can’t afford to.

And in her spare time?

"I do the Pan Dragons or I go to sleep," she said.

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