Joseph Penna, a longtime machinist and labor leader in Maine who also was known for his strong Italian singing voice, died Feb. 12. He was 90.

A Portland resident, Mr. Penna was remembered Thursday as a proud family man who gave back to the community.

He was born in Portland but grew up in Nola, a town located outside Naples, Italy. He returned to the United States at age 19, and later settled in Portland.

In 1951, he joined Southworth Machine Co. in Portland as a machinist. He was active in the Maine AFL-CIO, serving a stint as union president. His obituary, which is published in Sunday’s newspaper, says he was active on the local, state and national levels.

A 1977 news story in the Kennebec Journal listed Penna as president of the Greater Portland Labor Council.

His daughter, Nancy Curran, said Thursday he served on the labor council for about 30 years and worked closely with state officials such as then-Gov. Joseph Brennan and Sen. George Mitchell.

“People often said he was very fair,” his daughter recalled. “He gave workers a voice. He helped advance workers, but was also respectful of the company’s needs and policies.”

Mr. Penna retired in 1993 after 42 years of service.

He was married to Irene Penna for 68 years. The couple raised three children and lived in Portland’s Payson Park neighborhood beginning in 1956.

Their lives were centered on their family. Mr. Penna took pride in passing on traditions from his Italian roots, especially when it came to food.

Curran said her parents went on cruises and traveled to Italy a few times, the last in 2000.

She said they had a great life.

“She’s very sad,” Curran said of her mother. “She’s very lost, but my brothers and I are here to support her.”

Mr. Penna was active in the Portland Elks Club and served two stints as Grand Exalted Ruler. He also served on the board of directors at the Italian Heritage Center and Masonic Lodge in Portland.

Mr. Penna had a lifelong passion for singing. He was known for his Italian tenor voice. He was recruited to sing for Portland Junior College graduations. He also sang at many weddings, funerals, churches and clubs.

Curran said she performed with her father several times.

“It was an amazing experience. His voice was very Pavarotti-like,” his daughter said. “I loved that we were able to share this together.”

 

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