Richard Pence was a long-time member of NGS who contributed his many talents to the organization, especially in the early days of computer genealogy. We are saddened to learn of his recent death. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, January 9, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Conference Center located at 4301 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22203. The following obituary was contributed by his family.
Richard A. Pence, an editor and publications advisor whose hobby of tracking his ancestors evolved into pioneering work in the use of computers in genealogical research, died November 25 in Fairfax,Virginia. He was 77.
Pence’s work in genealogy, once a side-line, became a full-time effort in 2000 when he retired from his 39-year career in communications work for rural electric cooperatives on the state and national levels.
Pence’s principal genealogical contributions stemmed from his interest in the Pence surname. He amassed several large databases of information on those with this surname, some of which are available to researchers through a web site he created and maintained (www.pipeline.com/-richardpence/>.
In addition to two books of Pence family history, he was co-author in 1985 of Computer Genealogy, the first book covering this topic. In that year, he was also editor of The Next Greatest Thing, an award-winning photo history of the first 50 years of rural electrification in the United States.
In 1982, he was among the founders of a computer interest group within the National Genealogical Society, and he received the Distinguished Service Award and an Award of Merit from the society for his pioneering work in computer genealogy. In 2002, he was among the initial inductees into the Genealogy Technology Pioneer Hall of Fame by GenTech, an organization of genealogists interested in computer applications.
Pence authored numerous how-to articles on genealogy and computers, many of which can be found on the internet, and he was a featured speaker on this topic at several national genealogy conferences. He was especially fond of speaking engagements that allowed him to relate humorous incidents both with computers and life in general.
Following service in the U.S. Navy in 1950-1951 and graduation from South Dakota State University in 1955, Pence began his journalism career with brief stints at weekly newspapers in Britton, South Dakota and Tracy, Minnesota. He then completed course work for a master’s degree in journalism from Iowa State University followed by a move to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he was a publications editor at North Carolina State University.
He began his career in the rural electrification program in 1961 as editor of The Carolina Farmer (now Carolina Country) a monthly magazine published by the statewide association of North Carolina rural electric cooperatives. In 1967 he moved to Washington, D.C. to become editor of the Rural Electric Newsletter for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).
Pence received many awards for his journalistic and genealogical efforts and has authored several works, including Two Longs and a Short, a personal remembrance of growing up in a small South Dakota town. Proceeds from the sale of this book have gone to support college scholarships for Frederick, South Dakota High School graduates.
During his career with NRECA, Pence also served as editor of Rural Electrification Magazine and as head of the association’s publications department. He spent the latter part of his career at NRECA as a communications consultant specializing in assisting local electric cooperatives with pressing public and member relations problems, including threats of sell-outs. In addition to on-site assistance, he developed and conducted training sessions to guide local cooperatives in building sound public and member relations policies and programs. For the past several years he wrote a monthly column featuring historical flashbacks for RE Magazine.
Pence was active in numerous professional, cooperative and rural organizations and was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the National Food and Energy Council (Columbia, Missouri). He won the 1961 George W. Haggard Memorial Journalism Award, conferred by NRECA yearly to the editor of the statewide publication (Carolina Farmer) for presenting the most lucid, forthright and effective presentation of issues advancing the objectives of electric cooperatives.
He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Ellyn (Hutto) Pence, a native of Jackson, Mississippi, their three children, Todd of Fairfax, Virginia; Robert of Raleigh, North Carolina and Laura Pence Larson, son-in-law Matthew Larson of Allenspark, Colorado, and two grandchildren, Molly Bellou Larson and Calvin Pence Larson.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Robert Monroe Pence and Clarice Ethelyn (Stanley) Pence of Frederick, a brother, Donald and a sister, Margie Ann (Pence) Buntrock (Mrs. Ralph Buntrock).