Penny Van Horn was a fierce and uncompromising champion for women athletes at Denison. As Title IX was being introduced in 1972, Van Horn helped launch Denison’s women’s basketball, bowling, and tennis teams, and coached the tennis teams to state championships and national rankings. “As Denison’s first director of athletics for women,” says Lynn Schweizer, retired senior associate director of athletics, “Penny was instrumental in creating a strong foundation for the women’s athletic program.”
Inch by grinding inch, Van Horn, who came to Denison in 1953 as a professor of physical education, moved women’s athletics forward. From 1972 to 1979, she strengthened the budget and introduced eight new intercollegiate sports, which created more opportunities for women to participate and compete. “In the early ’70s, we didn’t have athletic trainers or statisticians or even someone to sweep the floor before games,” says Schweizer. “Each year, athletics for women became more organized, and it was Penny who provided the administrative structure that led to the program’s growth and success.”
Schweizer recalls that Van Horn worked diligently when it came to ensuring equality with the men’s teams. In 1971, when the women athletes moved over to share space with the men athletes at the facility that preceded the Mitchell Center, Van Horn made sure that women were scheduled during prime-time practice slots. “Penny developed a detailed practice plan for both the women and men to share the facility,” says Schweizer. “There were some hard battles fought during that shift to equality, but Penny was very strong in her conviction that the women should have the same rights as the men.”
Leslie Lincoln Hough ’80, a tennis and field hockey athlete who served as captain for each team at points in her Denison career, remembers a coach and a friend. “What I remember most about Dr. Van Horn was her love of the game, the friendships she nurtured, and her ability to encourage us to do our best. We worked hard together, celebrated our victories, and had a lot of fun along the way.”
Van Horn was an active member of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) and established Committee W (status of women) of Denison’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors. In 1999, she was recognized for her many accomplishments in Denison’s women’s athletics, when she was inducted into the Denison University Athletic Hall of Fame.
Van Horn died on April 2, 2017. She is survived by friend Marjorie Andrews, sister Dorothy Meyer, brother Edwin Van Horn, and eight nieces and nephews.