Date of death: 1/10/2020
Saint Meinrad Class: O 1959
Anthony Francis “Tony” Perry, a longtime area developer and community leader, died peacefully on Friday, January 10, 2020 at the Manteno Veteran’s Home, surrounded by his family. He was 88 years old.
Tony was born on April 25, 1931 to Italian immigrants Anthony “Butts” and Laura (DePeso) Perry in Chicago Heights, Illinois. He attended high school at Marmion Military Academy in Aurora, IL, then served in the US Army, bravely and successfully protecting Fort Sam Houston military base in Texas from hostile foreign invasion. He then spent two years at St. Meinred Seminary in St. Meinred, Indiana, as he studied to be a Catholic priest. Meeting the daughter of more Italian immigrants, Elinore (Ellie) Rendina in Chicago Heights in 1952 caused him to reconsider his pending vows, and he then completed his formal college education at the University of Notre Dame, where he graduated Cum Laude in 1955.
Tony and Ellie married in 1956 in Chicago Heights and started a family, which ultimately includes Elizabeth (Dan) LaMore of Hoffman Estates, IL; Lauren (Dennis) Wiley of Bourbonnais, IL; Thomas (Ricardo) Perry of Hollywood, CA; Joseph, of Chicago; and Anne (Eddie) Figus, of New Lenox, IL. The family extends to grandsons Luke Wiley, Nicholas and Braden LaMore, and granddaughters Hannah Wiley, Giovanna Perry and Reese Figus. Following graduation from Notre Dame, Tony, along with his brother, Sandy, operated his family’s Chicago Heights wholesale beer distributing business. Following the sale of that business, he and Ellie moved the family to Kankakee in 1963 to mentor under Romy Hammes and develop Marycrest subdivision and commercial properties on Kankakee’s east side. At that time and for many years, he also helped expand Peoples Bank and Marycrest Savings and Loan, as a member of the Board of Directors of those institutions.
Over the next nearly 6 decades, Tony became one of Kankakee’s most ardent community leaders as he expanded his commercial real estate business. He along with partners also developed many Kankakee area subdivisions, and Tony developed too many area commercial properties to count. For many years, his bright orange “Perry Commercial” signs seemed like they were on every corner. They practically were. In 1982, Tony, along with the Mayors of Kankakee, Bradley and Bourbonnais, created Area Jobs Development Association, a local, pioneering economic development agency, which was charged with converting the then vacant 800,000 square foot Bradley Roper plant into a incubator for small business. Tony led the mission of rehabilitating the facility and then spent several years traveling the world to entice commerce and industry to not just the converted Bradley facility, but to the greater Kankakee County and Illinois area.
As a member of the Chicago-based civic organization, Illinois Ambassadors, he accompanied two Illinois Governors in successful international trade missions to Europe and Asia. His enthusiasm and tenacity led to thousands of jobs being created over the years in the area. Continuing in his pursuit of a better community and desire to help those less fortunate, in 1991 Tony introduced Christmas in April to Kankakee County. From the first year, when the 3 houses were rehabilitated on just one day by a 100 volunteers, to his final year before handing the baton to others – almost 20 years later – when over 50 homes had major repairs completed by nearly 1,000 volunteers, this crusade was one of Tony’s proudest and most rewarding achievements.
Tony’s accolades were not limited to Kankakee County. He was widely known in the Greater Chicago marketplace as “The Expert” for commercial real estate in the South Suburbs and was a member of the Board of Directors and served in other leadership positions for the International Council of Shopping Centers, The Certified Commercial Real Estate Membership, The Society of Industrial and Office Realtors, The Northern Illinois Commercial Association of Realtors, The Association of Industrial Real Estate Brokers, and many other professional organizations. In 2000, Tony was inducted into Illinois Senior Citizen Hall of Fame. Besides promoting his community and courting new commerce to the State of Illinois, Tony enjoyed boating, snow skiing, traveling, financially supporting the many universities his children and wife attended (a/k/a known as tuition/room & board), Notre Dame football, testing Ellie’s recipes that ultimately led to two published cookbooks, and spending time with his grandchildren.
He loved to tell stories. Those that knew him well know each story well, and actually had reference numbers for them. They had to be true, for they never waivered in their storyline. And while Tony never actually was elected as a public official, he was considered the “Mayor” of Dock C of DuSable Harbor on Lake Michigan, as well as St. Joseph Avenue in Kankakee, and Guildford Drive in Bourbonnais. No one could break the speed limit on St. Joe or Guildford without being given chase by Tony in his massive Lincoln Town Car with the perfectly bleached white-wall tires. If it was ever determined that exposure to Westley’s Bleach White leads to dementia, that would explain a lot.
Tony suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease late in life, which obviously impairs the memory. But he never forgot his need to support his community, and would often humor his family with recollections of Chicago Heights and Kankakee, the communities that shaped him, and in some manner, he helped shape. It recalls an earlier memory when Tony spent so much time talking about Kankakee at a national real estate convention that one woman at the same lunch table was heard whispering to her companion, “What’s a kanka key?”. There are so many citizens that never knew how his commitment and energy helped them and their community. Tony Perry was loved and will be missed by many.