Cheryl Brand lived a very full life, as these collected memories will attest – as an artist who loved to dance and sing, as an actor and costume designer for countless area theater and dance companies, as a great friend to many (and an avid Beatles fan), as the daughter of Duane and Shirley Brand, as a beloved sister and loving aunt, as Walt Penney’s wife, companion and co-parent — and most importantly, as the devoted mother of Vanessa and Walter.
Cheryl’s parents met when her dad Duane served in the Pacific during World War II as a corporal in the Marine Corps. Shirley Keegan was a USO entertainer for the troops. Duane was prompted by his cohorts to get up on stage and sing a song with Shirley, whereupon they fell in love, married, raised a family, and remained together until 1995 when Shirley died of leukemia.
Cheryl took pride in having grown up in the Silver Spring and Takoma
Park area and loved sharing historical facts and favorite haunts. She
and her three brothers Duane, Jim and Dean attended Takoma Park
Elementary School, Takoma Park Middle School and Blair High School.
Cheryl graduated from Blair with the class of 1969. She received her
BA in English Literature from the University of Maryland. As her
friend Jay Moroughan said, Cheryl “spoke the King’s English” and loved
the company of a good book and a good song. Jay adds that “there was
no song that Cheryl didn’t know the words to, and no song she couldn’t
In 1970, at age 18, Cheryl took her first job as a tour guide at the
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and courted John Peel, a budding
paleontologist/geologist from England who in 1974 named a 425 million
year old fossil after Cheryl.
Blair High School classmate and friend Buddy Daniels describes Cheryl
as having been very popular, extremely smart and talented, but at the
same time unassuming and humble about her contributions. This carried
forth into her adult life and her career in the arts. Often shy and
retiring, she was protective of her privacy, though at other times she
was gregarious and actively, enthusiastically engaged in the world.
She worked with so many of the great artists and companies in the D.C.
area, including Eliot Pfanstiehl, Jerry Whiddon, Carla Perlo, Mark
Jaster, Mairi Rothman, Meryl Shapiro, and the list goes on and on.
Cheryl found ways to support and participate in the arts wherever she
Cheryl worked at Discount Books and Records near Dupont Circle in the
early to mid 1970s before launching into her career in the arts. She
and Walt Penney were introduced to each other by Allison Paul at a New
Year’s party. As their close friend Joe (Paul) Huebner describes: “It
wasn’t long before Walt bought a shack on nearby Baltimore Avenue, and
he and Cheryl began their life together. Cheryl transitioned from
dance to costume design. She worked at the Folger-Shakespeare and then
went on to the Round House Theater. Anyone who went over to their
house around Halloween can attest to how elaborate Cheryl could be with
costumes and decorations.”
During the decade that followed, Walt and Joe re-built the house on
Baltimore Avenue – and, according to Joe and their many friends,
enjoyed many an evening chasing concerts, music, and good times.
“Cheryl and Walt especially danced the nights away and were well known
for throwing a hell of a party or Crab Feast, which they often did.”
Cheryl and Walt got married in 1986, and in 1988 Vanessa was born.
Walter followed in 1990. The family was immersed in Takoma Park’s
community culture with Walt having joined forces with Howard Kohn in
starting the Takoma Park Soccer program, until Walt’s tragic passing in
2002. Cheryl began working part-time (2002-2006) for a Silver
Spring-based company that did contract work for the Environmental
Protection Agency. From 2006-2008, Cheryl was the office manager for
the Takoma/Silver Spring Voice – much to the great benefit of the staff
who remember Cheryl for her extraordinary organizational skills and
There were a couple of recent examples of Cheryl’s spontaneous
generosity — when she attended one of Ysaye Barnwell’s “Community
Sings” at the Levine School, and approached Ysaye afterward with great
excitement, offering to design clothes for her. Soon after that, when
Bob Engelman described the challenges he was facing in learning to use
a complicated music software program to help the bass section learn
their parts for the Strathmore Carpe Diem project, Cheryl without
hesitation offered to help, with her usual positive can-do attitude.
Cheryl brought a zest and exuberance to everything she did, and her
energy and creativity were boundless. Her generosity was such that she
wanted everyone to share in whatever good things were happening in her
life. We mourn her absence with great sadness and sorrow, but will
continue always to honor and celebrate her life and the lasting
legacies and memories she left behind.
Cheryl is survived by her children Walter and Vanessa Penney, by her
three brothers Duane, Jim and Dean Brand, and by a huge host of other
family members, friends and fans.
Compiled by Busy Graham, thanks to Vanessa and Walter Penney, Joe Paul
Huebner, Bernard Penney (Uncle Bernie), Olga Penney Garber, Leah
Garber, David and Mairi Rothman, Buddy Daniels, Jay Moroughan, Carla
Perlo, Alan Shapiro, Liz Stewart, Leon Wagener, Amy Hauser Miller, John
Peel, Alan Boyle, Howard Kohn, Diana Kohn, Julie Wiatt and Eric Bond
More memories of Cheryl will appear online at Takoma.com later this month.
The Brand Penney family has established a fund in Cheryl’s name by way of honoring and celebrating her life and her love of the arts. Contributions can be made to:
The Cheryl Brand Memorial Fund, c/o Class Acts Arts
8720 Georgia Ave., Suite 303, Silver Spring, MD 20910
The Cheryl Brand Memorial Fund will be acknowledged in future Class Acts directories of artists and programs, as well as on the web site. Contributions will support arts outreach to area schools and communities: performances, workshops and artist residencies representing a broad range of cultural traditions and artistic disciplines – as well as partnerships with other area non-profits, particularly those that figured importantly in Cheryl’s and her children’s lives.