Our History


Carol Penney Guyer

Carol Penney Guyer created the Penney Family Fund in 1999 as a result of the restructuring of the James C. Penney Foundation. Carol was born in New York City in 1930, the daughter of James Cash Penney and Caroline Autenrieth Penney. She received her BA in International Affairs with Magna Cum Laude honors from Stanford University. At Stanford, she met David Leigh Guyer whom she married in Karachi, Pakistan in 1952.

While in Pakistan from 1952-1953, Carol worked at United Nations’ refugee camps where she began her lifelong social advocacy work. While in India between 1955 and 1957, she promoted the arts and cultural exchanges, culminating in bringing sitar-player Ravi Shankar and other leading artists and musicians to the United States.

Carol and David had six children. Through her lifelong philanthropy, she supported hundreds of organizations that supported youth and family programs, microenterprise, environmentally sustainable communities, state tax and budget policy reform, and campaign finance reform. She was a champion of democracy and equal opportunity domestically and internationally and participated in civil rights marches and protests with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Carol Marie Penney Guyer passed away on July 7, 2002 at the age of 72. The foundation’s work and legacy is now joyfully led by her children, sons- and daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.


James Cash Penney

James Cash Penney, the founder of the foundation (and grandfather and great-grandfather to current Trustees) originated many of the values that inspired Carol. These same values continue to drive the foundation's grantmaking and impact investing. From the archives at Southern Methodist University SMU:

James Cash Penney, Jr.'s career combined the ideals of the nineteenth-century self-made man with many of the cooperative, economic, and social ideals held by Populists and Progressives. The company’s principles, which evolved from the 1890s Golden Rule Stores partnership plan and merchandising system, were written down in 1913 and included serving the public, expecting only a fair remuneration, and participating in company’s profits.

Penney wanted store managers to operate as entrepreneurs, and he established a corporate structure that motivated employees to work hard. A successful store manager received one-third of his store’s profit due to the classified stock system. Managers could also invest their profits in opening new stores and earn more profits. The same opportunities were offered to new employees until the late 1920s; then the profit-sharing contracts were given to store managers. This policy resulted in the company’s rapid expansion to nationwide status between 1913 and 1929. 

Penney’s avocations and philanthropies were farming, education, and religion. In 1927 he built a model cooperative farm community and retirement home for ministers and lay workers at Penney Farms in northern Florida, which has survived. In 1954, after his fortune was rebuilt, the James C. Penney Foundation was established. His favorite topics were how religious faith had restored his self-confidence after losing his fortune and the importance of applying the Golden Rule principles to practical business matters.