Mr. Clear Lake: A living archive
By PEGGY SENZARINO,    1833761

John Perkins graduated from Clear Lake High School 80 years ago when he was 16. (Globe Gazette photo by Arian Schuessler)CLEAR LAKE - John Perkin's face glowed as neighbors and friends stopped by to say hello and tell him how much they had enjoyed his stories about growing up in Clear Lake.

Perkins had just played to a full house at the Clear Lake Arts Center.

"I am going to talk about old time things that I know best because I am one of them," he said with a laugh.

Perkins, 96, known as the city's unofficial historian, always draws a crowd when he gives one of his programs.

"He's Mr. Clear Lake as far as history is concerned," said history buff H Milton Dusenberg of Clear Lake.

"I go to him for a lot of my questions about history. If there's something I can't look up, I go to him and he usually has an answer.

"He knows how to write. He knows how to tell a story."

Perkins graduated from Clear Lake High School 80 years ago at the age of 16.

"I thought I was lucky to get through," he said.

Perkins was born in February 1912, one of the harshest winters in memory. Temperatures hovered around 30 below zero when Perkins' father left the family farm south of Clear Lake to get the doctor for his wife.

His father always credited a heavy corduroy coat lined with wooly sheepskin with saving his life that bitterly cold day.

Perkins brought the coat along to a recent talk for a bit of show and tell.

"It's too heavy for me to put on by myself so I have to have some help," Perkins said as a volunteer helped him into the coat.

"I've had it all this time."

"It was a winter to remember. Father told me in later years that if he had not had that coat - it cost $12 - he would have frozen to death."

He also recalled his grammar school days.

"We walked to Central School no matter what the weather," he said.

In his sixth grade year, classes were held at City Hall on the west side of North Fourth Street.

At that time, the City Hall was located above the Fire Department.

"Class was always disrupted when the siren went off and the Fire Department had a call," Perkins said.

His father was in the newspaper business, but later started a dairy. The dairy kept the entire family busy.

"I was in the dairy business. I was 21 years old before I realized not everyone worked seven days a week," Perkins said.

At age 12, he serviced his own milk route in a Model T Ford.

Perkins met the woman he was to marry while getting milk from a neighboring farm.

It was Marlus Lambert's blue eyes "into which I fell and I never came up for air," Perkins said.

The young couple got married. They didn't have any money, but they wanted a honeymoon. They borrowed $100 on an insurance policy and went to Minneapolis staying in a downtown hotel as long as the money held out.

Next month, they will celebrate their 74th wedding anniversary.

The love between them endures to this day. As Marlus' health has deteriorated, including the loss of her eyesight, her loving husband has stepped in.

One of Perkins' skills today is cooking.

"I never was in the kitchen. She (Marlus) was a great cook. My mother was a great cook. They didn't need me in the kitchen."

His specialties include penne pasta and rice with shrimp.

When asked about the secret to a long, happy marriage he said, "you have to have a lot of give and take.

"You can't have your own way all the time."

The couple adopted two children, a daughter Sandy who lives in Wichita and a son Bruce. Bruce died in 1998.

The couple never seriously thought of leaving  Clear Lake after retiring in 1974.

"There wasn't any place better than Clear Lake," he said.

He smiles when asked about his unofficial title of "Clear Lake historian."

"People started to call me that," he said."I guess I knew some things that most people didn't know."

Longtime friend Bob Ingersoll of Clear Lake can't remember just when and where he met Perkins.

"He's a terrific person and I guess I've known him most of my life," Ingersoll said.

"He's sort of an icon. He's  a storyteller. He knows all of the history of Clear Lake and he's very interested in the community. He's been on every board, every council, every committee I can think of.

"He's got a tremendous sense of humor, a deep sense of loyalty. He's an all-around, well adjusted person and his age hasn't diminished that. He's a very vital person."

John Perkins
Article from
Mason City Globe Gazette
20 April, 2008
Page Created
21 April, 2008
Last Updated
21 April, 2008
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