Midwest modest--and more | 1, 2, 3
At home with students--and their dogs
Perry lives his life in similar ways.
He and his wife Betty - his page turner on Palm Sunday - live in a house just west of the M.U. campus. The house is a brick, one-story structure. It is neither showy or new, large or small. Instead, it is a nice middle-class home.
Inside, shag carpet covers wood floors. Book cases sitting against wood-paneled walls are stocked with tomes ranging from music to law. Coffee tables are covered with a variety of magazines: Newsweek, an alumni magazine, National Geographic.
Perry has lived in this house since 1973, and in that time he has seen many of the surrounding houses converted into student apartments. His is the only single-family residence remaining in the area.
Other people would have used - and did use - the change as an excuse to move out or complain. But Perry remained. And he adapted. He and Betty can often be seen in the spring and summer working in their garden behind the house. He knows the names of many of the students on his street and the names of their pets as well.
"Most of the students are very nice and pleasant," he says, then adds in typical understatement, "and then there are those who put their trash out 10 minutes after the trucks have picked it up for the week."
Perry's statement hints at the other side of him, the side that comes out when he is playing his organ, not when people are applauding him for it. For inside him, there are inner passions that hide behind his outward modesty. Although he is not showy about his emotions, Perry is a man who cares deeply about his community, his friends and his instrument.
Perry will sit in the rocking chair in the living room of his house and talk about issues. If the issue is something he cares about, Perry will express how he feels. But he does so calmly, without getting excited. Even as he discusses Sadie, the dog next door who terrorizes the neighborhood by constantly barking and playing chicken with cars, Perry doesn't raise his voice.
"She is a stupid dog," he says, then relates the latest story of her misadventures. He speaks slowly and softly. His rocking chair barely moves.
'An ambassador for Columbia'
Perry's caring nature goes beyond the issues of the neighborhood and into his relationships with the people around him. Perry seems to know everyone in Columbia; no matter who that person is or where that person works, Perry either knows that person or has a mutual acquaintance.
But Perry is not simply an acquaintance collector; instead, he cares about the people he knows. He keeps up with what people are doing and how they are.
As Missouri Methodist's music director Charles Kyriakos puts it, "Perry was always a very friendly person - very easy to talk to and always interested in not only you as an individual, but your family."
"To this day, he's always asking about Stephen and Mary Beth (Kyriakos' children). Not because we work together. He's like that with others as well."
Alexander Pickard, a close friend of Perry's since the early 1960s, says Perry "could probably be an ambassador for Columbia."
"That's a little unusual in today's world, where people usually only have time for themselves and their immediate family," Pickard says. "I think Perry's immediate family is a very extended one."
One person who came to be a part of Perry's extended-immediate family was Jyles Whittler. Jyles was a custodian at Missouri Methodist who helped build the church building in the 1920s and 1930s.
Perry met Jyles when he first joined the church in the 1950s. The two formed a friendship that lasted until Jyles death in 1990. In his office behind the church's sanctuary, the Rev. Schenck reflects on the relationship.
"In some ways, I think Perry thinks Jyles was the most insightful staff member during those years," he says.
Schenck says that what impressed him most about the friendship was that it transcended lines of race and class. Perry is white. Jyles was African-American. Both grew up in the era of segregation.
"That relationship represents an attitude about people and about race that says a great deal about Perry as a man, and I've always admired that," the Rev. Schenck says.
Back in his living room, Perry says he misses Jyles, but that his relationship with Jyles was nothing out of the ordinary. They were just friends, he says.
Perry says he helped Jyles run errands, and, after Jyles retired from his custodian job, he would go to his house to see him.
"Sometimes he would call on the phone to - as it were - report something," he says.
"He was very much a part of the church," Perry says of his friend. "Tending to the church was a love of his, not just an 8-to-5 kind of job."
Reporter: Troy Wolverton
Web Producer: Troy Wolverton
Published: September 18, 2002