Penton, who graduated in 1943, proudly wears the gingko-leaf badge of a trained UCLA docent. He has been leading groups through UCLA's Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden since 1997. But his interest in palms began long before.
"It's all in the genes," Penton explains. His maternal grandfather, Fred Standish Kenfield, planted the palm trees along Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. Even at the time, this was recognized as a major accomplishment: in 1927, the Governor of California presented Penton's grandfather with an engraved, silver-plated shovel.
During his student years, Penton was a business major and a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. He fondly recalls "the mish-mash of plants and junk" in the fraternity's garden. And when he left UCLA to use his B.A. in business administration at California Metal Enameling Company, he took his love of plants and gardens with him. As he rose from secretary to treasurer to chairman, Penton made a point of landscaping the 2-1/2 acre company parking lot in the City of Commerce. These days we'd call it "greening the urban jungle"; for Penton, it was something he did almost instinctively.
Over the years, Penton has belonged to a Who's-Who list of gardens and horticultural groups ranging from the local LA Beautiful to the International Palm Society. He has also improved his knowledge of palms and other plants by extensive travel in company with his wife, Audree. They've explored gardens all over the world, especially in India, Central and South America, Africa, Australia, and Southeast Asia. One of Penton's favorite gardens is the Singapore Botanic Garden. But he also loves local spots such as San Marino's Huntington Garden and UCLA's Sculpture Garden.
When he lived in San Diego County's Del Mar, Penton rejoiced in a wind-swept Torrey pine, right in his front yard. He had to leave that tree behind. But now he has a bigger Torrey pine on campus in the "MEMBG" - the docents' shorthand acronym for the botanical garden. To quote Penton, "the MEMBG Torrey pine is so happy and large, it's almost sinful!"
And perhaps that goes to show that the botanical garden is both a wonderful place to visit and a great place to stay planted.