During their time at Broadlawn, Penny Arnn’s dogs have encountered so many skunks that she now keeps shampoo and a swimsuit in the bathroom closest to the backyard so she can wash off the stench when the dogs come inside after being sprayed.
Penny Arnn, who is married to Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn, spends the majority of her time tending to college-owned Broadlawn and making it suitable for both business and family life. In addition to caring for her two dogs and keeping up with several college-related projects, she also attends college events and frequently entertains student guests and college visitors.
In addition to an elegant guest room, sitting room, and large dining hall on Broadlawn’s main floor, the house has what Arnn likes to call her “shipping and receiving department.” This long hallway downstairs is lined with garbage bags full of toys for a Christmas party she is planning for children of college faculty and staff, in addition to other packages and supplies prepared for events or for transfer to the Arnns’ Washington, D.C. residence.
“I’m lucky enough to be able to do the fun bits and lucky enough to be able to choose what I can do,” Arnn said. “My job is to be flexible. I do what needs to be done.”
The college uses the Arnns’ home for various receptions and dinners, as well as Larry Arnn’s “Ethics, Nature, and Totalitarianism” class. Next to his teaching room, Penny Arnn stocks up on coffee and snacks to ensure students are well taken care of during their two-and-a-half hour long class.
“I make sure they’re caffeinated and have sugar,” she said.
Senior Ryan Murphy is currently taking Larry Arnn’s ethics class and said Penny Arnn always goes out of her way to make sure students feel welcome.
“She takes the time to lay out treats for us, and last class, even made her famous homemade blondies that melt in your mouth,” Murphy said. “What complements learning better than that? Dr. Arnn’s lectures and Mrs. Arnn’s baking — a power combo from a power couple.”
Arnn said they sometimes have guests stay at their house while they’re in town for college-related meetings, allowing them more privacy and space than if they stayed at the Dow Leadership Center. Previous guests include Hillsdale College Board of Trustees Vice President Pat Sajak and Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
“They become our friends,” she said. “Mr. Sajak stays with us every time he visits.”
The Arnns have also had several animal visitors over the years. Besides the skunk encounters in their backyard, they have also seen a full-grown deer run through their house, as well as a chickadee, and a total of 11 possums inside one summer.
“The thing about possums is that they like to play possum,” Arnn said.
She proceeded in describing an instance in which one possum that appeared dead suddenly sprang to life and ran through their home.
Arnn said one of her favorite parts of her job is getting to see students dress up for Halloween and watching male dorm residents “just whaling on each other” during their annual Naval Battle. She smiled once she remembered two students who showed up at her house once during dinner asking to perform — she couldn’t recall whether it was a poem or a song — for Larry Arnn.
Penny Arnn didn’t receive quite the same kind of college experience as some Hillsdale students. After growing up in England, Penny Arnn took a secretarial course in Oxford after high school and then worked for the University of Oxford Engineering Science Department for four years.
“I thought, ‘This is fun!’” she said. “I lived and worked in Oxford and got to enjoy the college atmosphere.”
After high school, she worked at Oxford for four years and then had to go home for personal health reasons, later returning to Oxford to look for another job. At age 23, she began working for Sir Martin Gilbert, British historian and official Churchill biographer, and then met Larry Arnn, who was studying under Gilbert at the time. The two got married in 1979 and then moved to California where they had three children — Katie, Henry, and Alice — and later adopted a fourth, Tony, at the age of 14.
The Arnns later moved to Hillsdale after Larry Arnn was offered the position of college president in the year 2000.
“When we moved to Broadlawn, the board said, ‘Treat this house like your home,’ which was very helpful, so we felt that we could make it feel like home and not an institutional place,” Arnn said. “I like to keep this house nice.”
Arnn said when she’s not working, she enjoys spending time with her husband at home. They enjoy binge-watching detective shows in her husband’s study. She mentioned that, although they usually try to scrounge up a good show on Netflix or Amazon prime, they often default to “Blue Bloods.”
“I enjoy not being sociable sometimes,” Arnn said. “I’m fairly self-contained in many respects. My best friend is my husband.”
Although she doesn’t travel with her husband on all his trips, Arnn usually makes it out for most Washington, D.C., trips to visit their house there. She said she is looking forward to an annual Christmas party there for faculty of the Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Statesmanship and friends of the college, which she helps to organize.
One of Arnn’s long-established duties is planning the college Christmas card, something she’s working on this week. Sent out to faculty and friends of the college, the Arnns create a Christmas card each year on behalf of the college that features Broadlawn from different artistic angles. One year, the card displayed a photo of the house made out of gingerbread. This year, Professor of Art Bryan Springer is helping her design the card.
“I think Mrs. Arnn saw my work and thought it might be a nice, fresh look at Broadlawn as an iconic building that could be in a Christmas card,” Springer said. “I would imagine the challenge with the Christmas card is to provide enough variety so it isn’t the same every year.”
Arnn said she appreciates that people at the college work hard, enjoy what they do, and treat each other with respect.
“I appreciate, too, the respect that we are given in the way we live here, because we live in a college house, but people are kind enough to recognize that it’s our home, too.”