Penhale will live on in Helena history

FROM STAFF REPORTS / Editorial 

Not many of us can say we are responsible for the transformation of a city during the span of 45 years, but former Helena Mayor Charles “Sonny” Penhale can.

Penhale served as mayor of the city for one year short of half his life after taking office in 1968 and staying there until 2012. On Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, Penhale died at the age of 89, eight years after he left office.

A true pioneer for the city, he dedicated his life to helping Helena become one of Alabama’s best communities and a gem in Shelby County. Committing to anything for a period of time takes a lot of determination, but he committed half of his life to Helena for no other reason than his heart.

During the 1960 Census, Helena was a town of 523 people. Quaint and small, it was prime for growth, but finding the proper way to keep the serene nature while also helping it grow was the challenge.

That’s when Penhale stepped in.

Two years after he took office, the city’s population grew from 523 residents to a bustling 1,110.

That just scratched the surface, as Penhale was a visionary for turning the potential of Helena into a reality.

When he left office in 2012, the previous Census count was up to 16,793 people. He literally watched as the city grow by more than 16,000 people in his 44 years as mayor.

Now, that number is hovering closer to 19,000 residents.

Despite the growth, however, the vision for Penhale and his successors wasn’t to rip down all trees and turn Helena into a city of buildings and homes, but to create a comfortable place to raise a family while preserving the natural beauty it creates.

To this day, despite being Shelby County’s third largest city, Helena still has that comfortable way of living and a small-town feel.

Businesses have blossomed with several more on the way and homes are being built at a fast rate, but it’s being done in a manner that continues that vision Penhale set out to create, which was to move the city in the right direction, but do so properly.

Since then, Mark Hall, who beat Penhale in a runoff election in 2012, has served eight years and carried on the torch by continuing to make Helena a special place to live; and now, Brian Puckett has stepped in and is ready to do the same.

“He bled Helena. He loved this town. This town was his heart,” Puckett said. “His passion for Helena would be the most passion someone could possibly ever have.”

Penhale helped turn the town of Helena into the city of Helena, and now, the torch will continue to be passed down from what he created, thus, his legacy will never be forgotten.