May 26 • 06:33 AM

'Fan-Tastic' love

President of Imlay City business pens memoir of life with life of co-founder

July 07, 2010
IMLAY CITY — Admittedly, at first glance there is nothing romantic about an exhaust fan. But for Penny Milks, there is a love story.

The 53-year-old CEO of Fan-Tastic Vent recently completed a project that's been three years in the making. Along with editor Lois Gilbert, Milks penned a book titled 'Fan-Tastic—The Love Behind the Vent.'

With alarming honesty, Milks details the lasting love affair that everyone said wouldn't last—the risks they both took and the payoff they finally realized when husband Steve's configuration for a better ventilation fan for recreational vehicles was, indeed, a winner.

Before long, Fan-Tastic Vent was up and running and went from employing a handful of friends and family to 75 employees engaged in manufacturing what was the new industry standard—Fan-Tastic Vent's fan.

Penny Milks, president of Imlay City’s Fan-Tastic Vent with memoir detailing the 32-year marriage and business venture with the ‘love of her life,’ the late Steve Milks, who died unexpectedly in 2006. photo by Catherine Minolli.
Then tragedy struck. Steve died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2006, and Penny found herself faced with yet another huge challenge: Keeping Fan-Tastic Vent going and growing. And she did. The company is celebrating 25 years in business—and has sold more than 2 million fans across the globe.

Penny says she wrote the book to help process what she'd been through—and to heal from the deep loss she felt when her husband of 32 years died.

"I wanted to try to understand what happened, to remember the story and so that the grandkids would know the story," Penny says.

It is quite a story, too. Anyone who flips open the dust jacket is bound to be intrigued by the jolting honesty:

"When Penny Jo Long ran away to Michigan with Stephen Milks in 1974, she was eighteen years old and head-over-heels in love with a man who looked like every mother's worst nightmare: a handsome, fast-talking, thirty-four year old married man with two kids," reads the narrative. "Penny, by contrast, had just graduated from high school and lived at home with her solid middle class family in Liberty, Missouri."

In her memoir, Penny details the roller-coaster ride that led to success in marriage and in business.

"It was scary and risky, oh yes," Penny says. "But we were broke when all this took place so it wasn't any more scary than that."

Even with Fan-Tastic's success, the company was challenged when their manufacturing facility in Capac burned to the ground in 1997.

In 1998, they rebuilt in Imlay City and have weathered the ups and downs of uncertain economic times.

"We're seeing an upturn right now, we're very busy and we expect that to hold," Penny says.

The company is employing 51 people, down from a high of 75 but up from last year's low of 36 who worked just four days a week.

Though Steve's loss was followed by deaths of others whom the couple and company cared deeply about, Penny says writing the memoir has helped ease the pain.

"It's been therapeutic," she says. "It's difficult reliving a lot of it, especially Steve's death. But I had to get it out on paper and I find that now I can even laugh at some of the stories."

Humor also obviously played a role in Penny's successful 32 year marriage. The key?

"I compromised," she chuckles. "A lot."

Penny's book is available at Fan-Tastic Vent, 2083 S. Almont Ave., Imlay City or at or Call 800-521-0298 to order a copy toll free.

The public is also invited to a combination book signing-25th Anniversary Celebration Open House at Fan-Tastic Vent on Saturday, August 28. Details will appear in the Tri-City Times as the event draws near.

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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