Photos by Will Marks
A short time ago, in a galaxy not too far away, I made my own intergalactic journey to Penn Cinema, located at 541 Airport Road in Lititz. As I entered the massive and rather dramatic structure, my eyes wandered along the lobby walls, meeting the gaze of larger-than-life movie posters that stared back at me. I found so many intriguing aspects in them, which should have caused me to immediately dash off towards the ticket office, but I was on a mission. Oh, how I wish I could have just bought a ticket right then and there, granting me access for the next two hours to a viewing room where I could watch a fantastic movie, munch on sweet, sticky candy, and slurp down my favorite soda. However, on this particular day, I was not at Penn Cinema to enjoy a movie, I was there to meet its creator, Penn Ketchum.
The overwhelmingly addictive aroma of freshly popped popcorn filled the lobby as I rose from my seat to meet Penn. His warm smile and friendly handshake made me feel quite welcomed and I noticed a small patch of silver hair surrounded by impeccably groomed dark brown strands that looked to me like a badge of courage for taking on such a monumental project. Seeing it made me wonder if he quite possibly could be the alter ego of one of the comic heroes in the movies he shows and loves. We took the elevator to the second floor and as I stepped out, I was brought to a long, deep corridor which seemed to go on forever. It was hauntingly painted black with small ribbons of light darting around the room. It looked like something out of a sci-fi movie. Along the left wall were small, square, unassuming windows that offered a peep into each viewing room. Gone were the old Ferris Wheel-like 35-millimeter projectors; in their place stood stacks of sleek and shiny electronic equipment at each terminal, looking much like silent sentries guarding the theaters in front of them. As we moved through the shadowy passageway, Penn suddenly turned and swung open the door to his large and airy office. I was cordially greeted by three original Star Wars action figures lovingly placed on the top of his bookshelf, along with other memorabilia from his life. On one wall, a framed page from a Star Wars coloring book, that he had colored at the age of seven, was proudly displayed. I had now entered Penn’s world.
Penn Ketchum was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. His parents named him Penn after William Penn, the founder of the state of Pennsylvania and a descendant, according to family legend. Penn loved growing up in Brooklyn and particularly enjoyed spending summers at his grandparent’s summer home in the country. He attended Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, and on the first day of school met his future wife, Aimee, who hailed from Manheim. The two eventually married, made Lititz their home, and became proud parents of two beautiful girls. Upon graduation, Penn took on an internship as a counselor at the Caron Foundation in Wernersville, and eventually made his way through employment to the Lancaster County Prison, where he developed the first structured program for specific drug and alcohol counseling. This led him to the position of Lancaster County Director of MHMR (Mental Health and Mental Retardation) and eventually to Acting County Administrator.
In 2004, Penn began thinking about a change. He says it was really born out of the fact that every time he and Aimee wanted to go to the movies, they found themselves driving across town because there were no movie theaters in the Lititz area. The other reason was that he had been a huge movie fan since childhood. So, with the curiosity of Indiana Jones, he set off to learn all about the movie theatre industry. He read as many trade books as he could find. He sought out and spoke with other people in the movie industry and later that year, he found a piece of land near the Lancaster airport that was perfect for a movie theatre.
For access to the full article, reference page 72 of Issue 40 pdf.