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A Beautiful Life

A beautiful obituary for Miss Colorado USA/Universe 1962 Penny Jo James, who passed away in 2019, from the Pueblo Chieftan.

Pueblo native left the glamour to celebrate nature

Miss Colorado USA 1962 Penny James

She was the football/homecoming queen at Pueblo East High. A Miss Colorado, then a semi-finalist at the Miss U.S.A. pageant. A New York model for more than a decade. An artist. A published author.

Penny James seemed to have it all, but her life wasn’t always the stuff of dreams.

James was born in Pueblo in 1942. Her father Joseph ran a used car lot on the East Side; her mother Sophie was a kind soul who raised her children and helped those in need.

James was raised along with sisters Barbara, Sheila and Shanda on Overton Road, north of Pueblo. But it was during her teen years, spending time at her grandmother Esther James’ home in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, that she developed a love of nature and animals.

James graduated from East High in 1960 and within two years had competed in the Miss Universe pageant. She wasn’t just pretty. She was smart, artistic and charismatic, and those qualities were evident in modeling shoots throughout the world, working 11 years for Whilhelmina and Eileen Ford in New York City. She appeared on the covers of glamour magazines and in numerous TV commercials.

“She was so lovely,” sister Sheila James, who lives near Gardner, recalled. “She even was on some covers of Playboy, but only the covers.

“She didn’t have the body to be inside,” she added with a smile.

But while she enjoyed visiting other countries and experiencing their cultures, James remained a nature girl at heart. So she left the modeling world and purchased a 100-year-old farmhouse along the Delaware River in Shohola, Pa. There, she opened a gallery specializing in beds she made from trees, complete with branches and leaves. She used some of the proceeds from sales to benefit people and animals in need. And she began writing.

In 2017, she finished her book, “Muffin A True Story on an Orphaned Bear Cub and the Woman Who Raised Her.” It was James’ first-person account of having befriended a bear cub at her farmhouse and maintaining a friendship with the bear — then its cubs — for more than a decade.

She also was featured in the book, “Real Women’s Stories 2018,” a collection of first-person stories compiled by Beth Kallman Werner.

In that book, James talked openly about her battles with alcohol, saying: “The good news for anyone reading this book who thinks they might have a drinking problem: you can get the best therapy and help that money can buy by joining AA, and it won’t cost a penny. It’s a fact. I’ve lived it.”

After getting sober and gaining clarity in her life, James and her husband divorced and she dedicated herself to her art and her writing.

But then her health took a bad turn.

“Her last two years were really bad,” Sheila James said. “Cancer, auto-immune problems. She was blessed that her sister Shanda was her guardian angel, serving as her caregiver and also helping her selling and promoting her books.”

Penny James was working on a second book, “Zero Degrees of Separation,” when she died on April 11, 2019. Her family members have dedicated themselves to finishing it and getting it published.

James is survived by her three sisters, several nieces and nephews.

“If people would like to contribute in her memory,” Sheila James said. “They can be made to the Estate of Betty Jo Pastorek, in care of Shanda Sullivan (her sister) at 8616 Beaver Pond Lane, Fairfax Station, Va., 22039.

See photos and find out more about other past Colorado titleholders here.

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