If we regarded life as we do theatre, when the curtains drew closed on Perry Piper’s performance, as they did on May 12, we would have stood and cheered. The soft-hearted would have smiled through their tears; the men would have shouted loud bravos. The applause would have swept across the room like a wave on the ocean.
Perry was a columnist for Farm Collector almost from the beginning. Each month since, he regaled readers with tales of rural life in the early years of this century.
Blessed with an apparently photographic memory and a wonderful gift for storytelling, Perry re-created an era most of us never knew. His focus was fixed on a particularly colorful period of Americana, but one suspects his curiosity was broad enough to embrace any place, any time.
Less obvious to those who did not know Perry was the rich texture of his life. Lessons learned young left a lasting impression. As a boy, he was a “Lone Scout,” an option in rural areas where no Boy Scout troop existed. He was one of the first Lone Scouts to reach the Eagle Rank. Sixty years later, he was named a Distinguished Eagle Scout, a designation conferred only rarely. He remained an active volunteer and advisor to Scouting programs nationwide throughout his life.
As a student at the University of Illinois, he won national acclaim for his work in development of commercial dairy products such as homogenized milk, instant whipped cream and cottage cheese. Later, he owned several milk and ice cream plants, and was among the early producers and marketers of soft serve ice cream.
He was a dedicated member of the Jaycees and the Rotary Club, working with projects close to home and throughout the U.S. And still there was time for private pursuits: he was co-founder of the national Edsel Owners Club, a prolific writer, a collector of vintage farm items, a dedicated family man.
I never formally met Perry: Our acquaintance was limited to phone calls. But you don’t always have to shake a man’s hand to gauge his worth. Perry’s life was marked by spirit, by service, and by a commitment to doing things right. He was the product of an era that prized a classic education, hard work and a stronger brew of the watered-down stuff we now call “family values.”
On occasion, Perry would recite from memory passages from Julius Caesar. It is a drama that explores the far reaches of men’s characters, and one in which we see our friend well described:
“His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘This was a man.'” FC
For more on Perry, read “Interview with Perry E. Piper: A History of the Lone Scout Program in East Central Illinois,” (PDF) by Dan Wormhoudt from the University of Illinois at Springfield.