Editor’s note: A previous version had Pennell’s last name as Pannell. This has been corrected in the story below.
MURRELLS INLET, S.C. (WBTW) — Vann Pennell was the principal at St. James High School for 12 years, and once he retired he knew he would not see his students as often,
So, he found a way to keep them in his life as the newest employee at Chick-fil-A in Murrells Inlet.
After working such a fulfilling job as a principal, he said his new role is a dream.
“I feel like now I gotta have a purpose every day, and I wanna be around people, and I wanna be around young people,” Pennell said. “So I came here, and that’s my dream. It all came true.”
His new job has required him to learn tasks that are different from a principal’s day-to-day routine. He said he has learned how to run food, fill up tea, make ice cream cones and make milkshakes. While it is different, he said a lot stays the same.
“It’s just serving people, being kind, caring about people,” Pennell said. “The high school was nothing but people and [Chick-fil-A is] the people business.”
His students are happy that they are still able to see their former principal. A recent graduate called him one of a kind.
“I’ve never met a man like that really, honestly, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Joy Murawski said. “He knew everybody’s name. He knew every person’s situation. It was kind of crazy.”
She said he was a part of every one of his students’ lives.
“He made sure everybody got home safe,” Murawski said. “He made sure nobody went home hungry.”
Murawski said Pannell left a big impact on her and her high school experience.
“I want to tell him ‘thank you,’” Murawski said. “I probably wouldn’t have survived high school without him.”
For Pennell, he was never going out of his way to do anything. It is just who he is.
“I guess you never know what you’ve done to touch people’s lives,” Pennell said. “All I did [was go] to school at 6:30 in the morning, got home at 10:00 at night every night, and just grinded out every day.”
Pennell excelled as a principal, and his new boss at Chick-fil-A said he is a perfect fit for his new job.
“Having him here has been like having another operator,” Steve Farmer, owner and operator of Chick-Fil-A Murrells Inlet, said. “Everybody knows Van Pannell. He needs no introductions here in our community for sure.”
He said he has been an asset to the team since the beginning.
“He’s got that servant heart,” Farmer said. “When we were trying to get ready to open back up from our remodel, the guy that was inside our restaurant cleaning the tables and the chair legs was Vann Pennell.”
Pennell said when the first day of school came around, he missed his students, but his new job is still filling his cup every day.
“If I didn’t do this, I don’t know what I do,” Pennell said. “I’m a people person, and this just fills me with joy. It just makes me feel that I am giving back.”
After 42 years in education, Pannell said he has cracked the code to a happy life.
“Just be nice, be humble, be appreciative, give back and learn how to forgive,” Pennell said. “If you do those, life is pretty simple.”