Penny Knuckles

Penny Lynn (Ward) Knuckles was born in Ohio in January 1951 and was raised in New Jersey.  
While studying biology at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania she chose Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota as a place to work as a park ranger in 1972. There, she met Dennis Knuckles, also a ranger, and a 50-year partnership began. Penny finished her degree and she and Dennis were married in the pines near Jewel Cave in December 1973.  
After working at Jewel Cave Penny and Dennis launched careers that took them to many more national parks. Penny served in 13 national park areas from South Dakota to Alaska to Florida to Hawaii and many places in between. She worked as a park naturalist/interpreter, a law enforcement ranger and supervisor and as a natural and cultural resource manager.  Her last assignment was as chief of resource management at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
She and Dennis worked together in many remote and challenging duty stations, once building their own cabin to live in while working at Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.
In Hawaii and Alaska, Penny immersed herself in the unique culture, running a dog team in Alaska and learning hula in Hawaii.  Penny retired in 2006, but volunteered for several seasons with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean.  At Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, she worked with albatross and petrels, eradicated invasive plants and wrote a vegetation management plan.  
Penny liked physical challenges:  hiking, caving, climbing and especially scuba diving. She loved the Black Hills, with their peaks, rocks, caves, wildlife, flowering plants, and trees.  She loved growing plants indoors and out, caring for them and eradicating weeds that might invade their ground.
Penny also made music.  In high school she played in the Highlander all-female bagpipe band. In retirement, she played hammer dulcimer with the French Creek Folk in Custer, S.D.
Most important to Penny was her love for Dennis and their strong and enduring partnership. She also valued her many friendships in the national parks and in Custer, where she and Dennis made their permanent home.
In November 2021 Penny was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).  She fought the disease with every ounce of her energy for over a year, through chemotherapy, radiation and a risky stem cell (bone marrow) transplant.  Although her odds were not good, she hoped to have a few more years of quality life with Dennis.  
Penny died Jan. 4, 2023, at her Custer home with Dennis and Nemo by her side from complications of AML and its treatment. She was 71.
She is survived by her loving and dedicated husband Dennis of Custer; her sister, Sandra Wagnon of Creede, Colo., and her rescue cats Nemo, Luna and Honu.
A celebration of life will be held in May.


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