GERALD A. PERKINS, 90
WWII Veteran and Glen Ellyn’s First Living Legend
Gerald A. Perkins, 90, of Glen Ellyn, a widely-respected architect and a longstanding pillar of his community, died peacefully on Sunday evening, September 8, surrounded by many family members. His daughter, Jennifer Madsen, described the cause of death as being a simple consequence of old age. She added that his family has taken considerable solace from the fact that her father’s gentle passing away in his residence of nearly 60 years fulfilled his strong desire to be at home when it became time for his life to end.
Soon after his birth in Chicago, Mr. Perkins’ parents elected to raise him and his older sister Miriam in Glen Ellyn. During his childhood years, Mr. Perkins -- known as “Jerry” to his many friends and acquaintances -- demonstrated his capacity for the wide range of interests that would be one of his lifelong defining characteristics. Despite an unwavering decision reached during grade school to become an architect, Jerry never narrowly limited his focus. He enjoyed success in athletics, music studies, Scouting and outdoor activities in general. Always enterprising, he earned pocket money during the Depression by selling black and white photos that he had taken locally with his father’s camera and which he had transformed into color images by painstakingly brushing paint into the prints that he developed in the basement of his family’s home. Starting at a young age, he also developed a keen interest in history on both a local level and nationally, nurturing a lifelong study of the lives and times of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Not surprisingly, Jerry also studied various art forms. While he had a particular affinity for the classic Greek and Roman orders, he was also intrigued by Moorish art and the Chinese principles of Feng Shui. Jerry’s willingness to encounter risk, which was abundantly exhibited by a variety of childhood pranks and mishaps, and again later revealed by his fascination with learning and performing aerobatic maneuvers in an open cockpit bi-plane during the war years, extended even into his artistic endeavors. He favored working with water colors even though an entire work could be irreparably ruined by an inadvertent extra droplet from even the intended final brush stroke. Many of the hundreds of paintings that Jerry created have been given to friends over the years while others have been retained for family enjoyment.
Jerry’s undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois were interrupted by the onset of World War II, which prompted him to join many of his Glen Ellyn friends in volunteering for military service – in Jerry’s case, pursuing the adventure of flight. Following officer’s candidate school, flight training revealed natural airmanship ability. Jerry’s instructors consequently promoted him after he had finished only a fraction of the normal flight school program and he shipped out for active duty in England. Jerry’s vivid memory of his last sight of the U.S. when departing—a view of the Statue of Liberty as seen from the deck of the Queen Mary in her role as a troop ship – inspired one of his final water color paintings late in life. In his role as pilot in command of a B-24 Liberator, which was then the largest airplane in the skies, Jerry successfully completed more than 25 combat missions. Decorated for acts of courage on multiple occasions, Jerry assigned much greater importance to the fact that he was able to get his crews home safely even on occasions when engine and aircraft damage that led to several forced landings. However, he was never able to free himself of heartache over the dreadful results of the bombing raids.
War’s end allowed Jerry to complete his university studies while serving as president of the U. of I. chapter of the architectural fraternity Alpha Rho Chi, enter into what would be a happy marriage of 52 years and return to his home town of Glen Ellyn to embark upon a highly prolific architectural career. The early homecoming years included extraordinary challenges. As more highly detailed in a 2002 Tribune article reporting the death of Jerry’s wife Janice, who was a pioneer in travel arrangements for disabled people, Janice contracted polio within only a few days after Jerry had left the security of employment in Chicago to launch his own architectural firm in Glen Ellyn. For many months, she was hospitalized and subsequently undergoing intensive physical therapy to regain the use of her upper body and to train for life in a wheelchair. Jerry calmly and optimistically encouraged her while juggling the demands of his nascent practice and caring for their toddler daughter and six-month-old son. A shared and steadfast determination to make the most of life led the young couple to better times, including the births of two more sons.
Paralleling the steady ongoing growth of his architectural practice, Jerry expanded his community involvement. He gave freely of his time in service as a Glen Ellyn Trustee, a member of the Park District Board, a member of the Glen Ellyn Historical Society core group that initiated the restoration of local nineteenth-century landmark Stacey’s Tavern, and in leadership roles in local and regional Rotary Club activities. Teaching night classes in construction subjects at the fledgling College of DuPage excited him and Jerry considered it a privilege to commit to many years of teaching Sunday school classes at the Glen Ellyn Methodist church, his spiritual home for 85 years. Jerry also derived great satisfaction by serving for decades and until his death as a board member and officer of Forest Hill of Glen Ellyn, a role that allowed him to help bereaved families with interment arrangements at local Forest Hill Cemetery. Although Jerry willingly aided Janice in pursuing her passion for traveling throughout the U.S. and abroad, ranging from repeated visits to the British Isles and other parts of Europe to daunting trips such as one that extended into the Arctic Circle, he most preferred to spend his uncommitted time to gardening in his acre-plus yard adjoining Sunset Park in Glen Ellyn.
Accolades earned across the years included induction into the Paul Harris Fellowship (Rotary International’s highest award), a Glen Ellyn Village Board Resolution declaring Jerry to be a living Village Treasure, and his designation as a “Glen Ellyn Living Legend” by the Glen Ellyn Historical Society. Jerry was also grateful to be Glen Ellyn’s first recipient of the Studs Terkel Humanities Award. Jerry was both touched and amused by a local author’s inclusion of him by name as a character in a recently published mystery novel set in Glen Ellyn.
Residents and visitors to residential neighborhoods in Glen Ellyn and neighboring suburbs frequently encounter the beauty of Jerry’s architectural vision in the form of the more than 2000 varied residential commissions that he fulfilled. With the design responsibility for more than a dozen civic, educational, medical, commercial and professional buildings, Jerry has left his mark in a manner that seamlessly bolsters the character of downtown Glen Ellyn. Yet, when recently musing upon his many enjoyable years of home town life, Jerry emphasized that the finest of these experiences have centered not upon any particular building or other accomplishment, but rather upon his marriage and family, and the fellowship of his many friends in so many different walks of life. He treasured these relationships above all else.
Jerry was preceded in death by his beloved wife Janice, his parents, his infant brother Trevor and his dear sister Miriam. He is survived by his children Jennifer (Michael) Madsen, Timothy (Linda), Randolph (Lynn) and Jeffrey (Ruthann); his grandchildren Michelle, Rebecca, Jessica, Angela, Miles, Greg, Sarah, Jason and Melissa; his great-grandchildren Colin, Kayleigh, Mackenzie, Brendan, Melina, Magnolia, Alexander, Allegra, Gabriela, Katrarina, David, Francine and Marissa; and a circle of cousins and other extended relatives with whom he faithfully remained in touch and for whom he had a deep and abiding affection.
A memorial visitation in Jerry’s honor will be held on Friday from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. at The Leonard Memorial Home, 565 Duane Street, Glen Ellyn. A memorial service is planned to begin at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday at the First United Methodist Church of Glen Ellyn. Private inurnment will be at Forest Hill Cemetery, Glen Ellyn. Memorials in lieu of flowers may be made to Glen Ellyn Rotary, Glen Ellyn Historical Society or First United Methodist Church of Glen Ellyn.
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