Our Staff

George (deceased) and Ruth Penland

George (deceased) and Ruth Penland


Ruth Ford Penland and her twin brother Rex Ford were born June 19, 1918 to Edney and Bessie Sluder Ford at their grandparents George and Rena Bridges Ford's home at Warne, Clay County.

Her Grandparents sold their farm at Leicester and moved to Warne on wagons where they bought a 640 acre farm with four houses. They later had a country store, grade A dairy, wheat and corn mill and a construction company that built roads and bridges. That is where 16 of 20 grandchildren worked as they grew up.

 Ruth is the third child in a family of six children, Wayne, Rex, Ruth, Leonard, Lois and Sue. There are four sets of twins in their family. The only living sibling is Sue Ford Crittenden who lives in Chelsea, Michigan Retirement Home and she will be 100 years old on August 28, 2023. 

 Ruth's father was a farmer and truck driver. He built their home on Ford Rd. He passed away at their home on December 26, 1956 and her mother moved to Swannanoa. The men depended on farming to make a living. There were not many cash jobs available. They took eggs, chickens, and corn to the store for cash and paid for what they had to buy.

 They went to Hayesville High School in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade. Ruth  met George Penland in the 9th grade where he and two other boys were taking Home Economics in Ruth's Home Economics class. He became her high school sweetheart.

 They graduated in the class of 1935. Ruth was Salutatorian and had the last five years of perfect attendance. The last two years of high school, Ruth lived at the Hayesville jail and helped her aunt Neva cook and feed the prisoners.

 In February 1936, she went to live with her grandparents to care for two first cousins, eleven and seven years old. Their mother had passed away. They later lived with George and Ruth. She helped them milk the cows and several other chores. She helped her grandmother pull feathers from the ducks to make feather beds and pillows. She remembers sleeping on straw tick beds and helped make cotton mattresses. She was a 4-H Club leader and Clay County news reporter. George and Ruth helped raise 6 other children.

George and Ruth were married on August 28, 1937. They had three sons, Jerry, Jim, and Joe. George farmed and worked in the TVA office where they were building the Chatuge Dam and helped James Clark sell stock at the Farmer's Federation. From 1942 until 1959, they ran Penland and Sons Poultry and Feed, a Grade A Dairy and Tri-State wholesale company. Ruth was the bookkeeper and treasurer. She went to Young Harris College to get a business degree.

 In 1959, the poultry and dairy business had slowed down. Jim was in college at Cullowhee, Ruth and George moved to Swannanoa to have a good financial future for their three sons and their families.

 In 1963, George was a supervisor at Beacon Manufacturing Company and Ruth was working at Memorial Mission Hospital where she worked for 15 years as Admitting Supervisor. They moved to Berryman Hall Funeral Home in Asheville for George to manage for Ruth's cousins. In 1970 they bought the business and changed the name to Penland and Sons Funeral Home. They also had an ambulance service with the Federal Veterans and Buncombe County contracts. They bought 5 Apartment Houses that the Fire Department burnt one, on Crescent Street to make a larger parking lot. Penland Ambulance Service office and Joes Business's  were on Broad St. Ruth and George resided on Baird St  beside her son Joe and his wife Terri. After Georges father passed away in 1970, they moved his mother into the apartment next door to the funeral home where she resided until she passed in 1979. They had 2 apartments on Charlotte St. that Ruth rented.

 In 1976, they opened another funeral home at 125 South Avenue in Swannanoa. The funeral home in Asheville burned in 1986. They bought a home and moved next door to the funeral home in Swannanoa.  Ruth's brother Rex passed away in 1999, her husband George died in 2001 and son Jerry August 28, 2005. Jim retired after 44 years of service at Square D Company and joined Ruth and Joe at the funeral home.

 In 2009 Joe had to retire because of bad health from exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. He died on January 28, 2014.

 After 60 years of bookkeeping, treasurer, and manager, Ruth decided to slow down. Her grandson, Jason Penland joined Jim to operate the funeral home. Jason also owns Asheville Mortuary and Asheville Area Alternative Funeral Home where his son Jonathan and daughter Emily work. This makes four generations now in the family funeral business.  The present manager of Penland Family Funeral Home is Elizabeth Gillespie and the office manager and funeral apprentice is Brittany Gehring.

 Ruth is the family genealogist. There were 12 children on Ruth's mother's side and 24 grandchildren. On her father's side there were 11 children and 20 grandchildren plus three generations, that makes for a lot of kin folk. Ruth has two widowed daughters-in-law, Janice and Terri, a son, Jim and his wife Linda, 10 grandchildren with their eight spouses, 20 great-grandchildren and 12 great-great-grandchildren and a host of nieces, nephews and cousins, who all that are of employment age  have good paying jobs, such as Doctors, Lawyers, Judges, School Teachers, Fire Chiefs and VA Hospital Supervisors/ Office Managers.

 Ruth is an Atlanta Braves fan and a Carolina Tar Heel fan. She is the oldest member of Oak Forest Methodist Church, the oldest living graduate of Hayesville High School and is one of the oldest active funeral directors in North Carolina.

 With the help of CPI security system, a walker, funeral home staff and family, the Swannanoa Fire Department within walking distance of her residence, who employs her grandson Anthony Penland as Fire Chief and his son, Jarrod Penland (also Ruth's grandson), and her grandson, Joe Penland living next door to her, Ruth is able to live alone in her home next to the funeral home. 

James 'Jim' Penland

James "Jim" Penland


A native of Clay County (1941) and son of George and Ruth Penland. He is a graduate of Hayesville High School in 1959. He attended Western Carolina College and moved with his family to Swannanoa in 1961.


He was a supervisor and Division Traffic Manager for Square D Company. After 44 years of service he retired in 2004.


He started working for Penland and Sons Funeral Home in 2004 along with his mother Ruth Penland and brother Joe Penland.


In 2012 along with nephew Jason Penland they purchased the funeral home and changed the name to Penland Family Funeral Home. They have made many changes, updating building, Vehicles and services for the Funeral Home.


Jim is very community minded, coaching 3 sports, charter member of Erwin Youth League, Southeast Regional Commissioner and member of Babe Ruth Board of Directors. He was induced into Erwin High School Hall of Fame in 2015.


He is married to his high school sweetheart, Linda Sanders Penland and they have 4 children, Ladonna, Jeff, Keith and Jimmy Penland. They have 4 grandchildren and 1 great granddaughter.

Elizabeth Gillespie

Elizabeth Gillespie

Funeral Director/ Manager

Elizabeth “Liz” Gillespie, earned her Associate of Science in Funeral Service with honors, from Fayetteville Tech Community College in May of 2014 and she worked as a funeral director and embalmer in Marion, NC.

She joined our family funeral home in August 2019 and then became our manager in June of 2020.

Liz was called to this ministry in 2011, after working 25 years as a dental hygienist. She had always been interested in the funeral business ever since her childhood years growing up in Florida. She experienced the unusual loss of over 26 classmates, from the early age of 10 to her adult age of 22. Looking back, Liz says that she believes this contributed to her understanding of death and the importance of caring for people who’ve lost loved ones.

Deeply compassionate and caring is what Liz has in her heart. She feels that each family she serves is truly a privilege and an honor for her. Each and every decedent and  family she cares for is treated as if they were Liz’s very own family member.

Liz’s keen eye for detail and thorough attention to every family’s wants and needs, are what makes her stand out from the rest. She strives to exceed your expectations and she lovingly cares for each and every one who she comes into contact with.  

Liz’s husband, Keith Gillespie, who is also a part of our funeral support staff, live in Marion, NC, with their dog, Sweet Pea. Together, they enjoy traveling, being outdoors, going camping, boating with friends on Lake James, watching movies, spending time with their daughter and her family and spoiling their three grandchildren.

Jonathan Penland

Jonathan Penland

Funeral director

Jonathan Penland is our newest and youngest licensed Funeral Director.  He graduated from Fayetteville Technical Community College in 2021 and obtained his associate's degree in Funeral Service Education.  After serving his apprenticeship, he became a licensed funeral director in July of 2023.


Jonathan is the 4th generation of Penland Family Funeral Director's, which started with his great-grandparents, Ruth and George Penland, who started Penland Family Funeral Home in 1970.  His grandfather, Joe Penland, operated the business until he passed in 2014.  Today, his father, Jason Penland, oversees the daily operations of the family business and Jonathan's sister, Emily, is also studying to become a licensed funeral director.


Jonathan is excited to be carrying on the family tradition of serving our community with the upmost care and compassion.  He is a thoughtful and caring young man who wants to exceed every families expectations.  He also strives to give his best to each and every family that he has the honor of caring for.


In his spare time, Jonathan enjoys playing with his dog, Phil.  He enjoys hiking, camping, and spending time with his family and girlfriend.  He also enjoys traveling and snowboarding with his close friends.


He looks forward to the day that he can pass along the funeral home business to his children and mentor them in the best way so that they can carry on the legacy he is proud to have inherited.

Brittany Gehring

Brittany Gehring

Office Manager/ Apprentice Funeral Director

Brittany Gehring is a Swannanoa native and a 2008 graduate of Charles D. Owen High School. She is the daughter of Timothy Grant and Martha Edmonstone.

 Brittany started her career in  Funeral Service in 2014 as an office coordinator at another funeral home and joined our family funeral home in the fall of 2021. She is currently an Apprentice and  enrolled in the Funeral Service program at Fayetteville Technical Community College and will graduate as a Funeral Director and Embalmer in 2025.

 Her gentle nature and sweet smile are the first things you notice about her. Brittany is a warm spirit and nurturing soul. From the very first phone call you will feel comfortable with her. She understands the gravity of losing a loved one and how heavy grief can be. In 2011, Brittany has suffered through many losses in her life. She is an advocate for Mothers against Drunk Drivers and someone who you can lean on in your darkest moments of loss. Brittany says that the experience of losing her children and then working in the funeral home has helped her process and heal from her tremendous loss.

 Being able to care for families, especially mothers and fathers who have lost their children, no matter how old they are, is one of the beautiful attributes Brittany possesses. Brittany truly cares for all of the families she serves at Penland Family Funeral Home and is honored to serve the community that she has grown up in.

 In her free time Brittany enjoys spending time with her daughter Isabelle, camping, hiking, making crafts, and gardening.

In this section

About Us

Our Staff

Contact Us

Privacy Policy

© 2024 Penland Family Funeral Home. All Rights Reserved. Funeral Home website by CFS & TA | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Accessibility