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Living History

On last year’s trip, our colleague, Barbara Thomas, had a chance meeting with a life-long New Orleans native who witnessed unfathomable horrors when the levees broke.  Mr. Rene Penny works – seven days a week – as the head cook at the Hotel Monteleone.  His shift began this morning at 7:00 a.m. and he finished at 10:00 p.m., afterwhich, he stopped by our hotel to visit and share his deeply emotional experiences with Kathryn, Janelle, Maria, and me.  With his utterly gracious permission, Janelle was able to videotape his visit with us.  For an hour and a half, he talked and answered questions. From him, we continue to learn so much about the New Orleans that once was, versus the one that struggles to heal. Kathyrn will soon post that “interview” for all of you faithful readers to experience yourselves.  His stories are shocking and devastating, yet, for all that he has endured, he emanates a very powerful faith and a tremendous strength of spirit. He helps us to understand what really happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  In the words of Kathryn, Rene is “living history”…   Although he has finally reclaimed his home, his wife and two daughters (11 and 14) remain in Altanta, where the girls have the opportunity for good schooling. Four years after the city was consumed by the flood waters, there is only one school up and running.  Rene looks forward to the day, when he can be reunited with his family in a city that is restored to – or at least reminiscent of – his beloved native home.  We were all so deeply touched by his open heart, his honesty, and his courage.  Thank you, Barbara Thomas, for leading us to this incredible human being.  And thank you, Mr. Rene Penny, for teaching us just how far the human spirit can reach.

Juliana Horton
Latest posts by Juliana Horton (see all)




Day 5


  1. Barbara Thomas

    Dear Berklee (NOLA) friends,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking the time to meet my very special friend, Mr. Rene Penny. Last year, I told all of my NOLA buddies (and everyone else) about Rene, but timing prevented he and I from getting together with all of Berklee crew. This year, thanks to Juliana, Kathryn and Linda, you have all met Rene! In speaking with Rene over the past several weeks, he was so excited about meeting all of you and said that he wanted to share with you all, what he had shared with me. As I have said, his story is absolutely unbelievable, which he shares with honesty and raw emotion. He and I have stayed in contact for the past year and his friendship has changed my life. My husband and I consider him to be a part of our family now and anticipate a visit from him whenever he likes.

    You are all incredible. Sending love and warmest blessings,


  2. Jenna

    This is incredible and I look forward to reading about Mr. Penny. What a life. In 2007, Rob and I talked for a long time with a man whose house we were working on. Rob would have more about it but his story was incredible. The stories about the relocation and families splitting up (by choice or otherwise) still haunt me. AND…something that I am reading in disbelief… there is only ONE school up and running right now!? That is terrible. Just terrible…

  3. Patricia Peknik


    Don’t forget, either, that Rene Penny’s story is only getting to all of us because during that chance meeting last summer, you had the wisdom and compassion to truly listen. You turned a corner, met Mr. Penny, stopped, and not only listened in the moment, but carried this new friend’s story with you all through the rest of the trip and the rest of the year. It’s your goodness of heart that brought this story to a new group of listeners. Makes me want to listen more carefully to new friends and old.

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