By Janet McGovern
Steve Penna, the owner and publisher of The Spectrum Magazine and a passionate champion of Redwood City, passed away on Friday afternoon. He was found unresponsive in a private residence by a friend, according to San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault.
The coroner said there is officially no cause of Penna’s death at this time, and the death is being investigated by his office.
The lifelong Redwood City resident was both well-known and well-liked in the community where he grew up. Penna was an enthusiastic booster of anything and everything about his hometown. He launched his monthly magazine in 2003, which provided a platform to showcase local people, nonprofits, clubs, events and businesses.
Penna, 59, also assiduously tracked actions of local government, especially the City Council and the Planning Commission, and wasn’t shy about offering his views in his column, “As I Was Saying . . . ” Invariably upbeat, Penna was a familiar presence at gatherings all over the city, from a recent candidate’s launch to Chamber of Commerce dinners.
His ubiquity made the news of his death all the more shocking in the community. Debbie Jones Thomas, who served with Penna on the board of the Redwood City Police Athletic League, had just talked to him Thursday about plans for a golf tournament.
Similarly, friend Paula Uccelli recalled having had dinner with Penna on Tuesday night and listening to him talk about the happy stage where he had arrived in life. The youngest of six children, she said, Penna “loved his family and loved his community beyond and beyond.”
She added that Penna had other opportunities in life but was committed to Redwood City. The Spectrum Magazine allowed people to learn about worthy causes and the stories of local residents. “The impact (he made) is incredible,” Uccelli said. “I don’t think a lot of people know how many organizations and people he has touched.”
When Penna received the chamber’s Golden Apple Award in 2012, State Senator Jerry Hill dubbed him “Mr. Redwood City,” and it’s hard to imagine a title Penna could have liked better. Among his many activities, he was one of the original members of the board of the Police Athletic League, formed to build positive partnerships between police and the community, and was serving as president.
The Sequoia High School graduate was a leader of the campaign to restore Carrington Hall and was involved at various times with the Peninsula Celebration Association, the San Mateo County Child Advocates program, and the St. Pius Church Youth Ministry.
Most recently, Penna promoted an annual fundraising event at Courthouse Square, which he had begun years ago to help raise funds to support concerts and other entertainment downtown.
Penna was also the co-owner of Stuff on the Square, a gift shop on the Square which sells, among other things, Redwood City-themed tee shirts. Regina Van Brunt, who had been in partnership with him for seven years and considered Penna one of her closest friends, struggled to describe her feeling of loss.
“He was ‘Mr. Redwood City’,” she said. “He always joked about that. The community loved him. He is the heart and soul of our community. This is a very big deal for us.”