Columbus thanked a school official for four decades of service to students by honoring him with the city’s most prestigious human rights award.

Larry Perkinson, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. employee and student assistance coordinator, received two standing ovations Thursday night during the Columbus Human Rights Commission annual meeting, including from individuals and families he has helped over the years.

Perkinson received the 2017 William R. Laws Human Rights Award from Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, who said he and Perkinson met as Columbus High School sophomores.

Lienhoop described Perkinson as a passionate advocate for all BCSC students and the voice for nearly 400 of them who are homeless or between stable homes. Lienhoop also praised Perkinson for his work on the issues of discrimination, substance abuse, bullying, suicide prevention and domestic violence.

In his acceptance speech, Perkinson took the audience inside the Columbus home where he grew up, describing how his parents’ house had become a gathering place for people in the neighborhood who needed a meal, some company or other help. Perkinson recognized his mother, Lillie Perkinson, seated in the audience during the ceremony, and he made mention of memories of his late father, Lester Perkinson, who died in March.

Perkinson also described his good fortune in marrying his wife, Julie, and finding out what a great cook she was. He described what it was like to rediscover grilled cheese and tomato soup one night early in their married life, and to be taken back to a time when his mother would also make tomato soup.

“When my mom made a can of soup, and sometimes half the neighborhood kids were there, she knew there wasn’t going to be enough,” he said.

So she would add more water to make sure there was plenty to go around, he said.

But the soup that Perkinson’s wife put before him had been made with Half & Half and a stick of butter, which tasted far different than the stretched versions of tomato soup that he remembered growing up. That tomato soup became the dish of choice on Toasted Cheese Tuesdays, when their children’s friends would gather at their home much as they had at his parents’ house.

“Here’s what I know is true,” Perkinson said. “Julie and my mom are so much alike. They know what the problems are for everyone at the table and they invited you into the conversation. They had a clear grasp of the community we lived in and would extend that beyond our front doorstep.”

Now, years later, some of those individuals still remind him of the time they spent in the Perkinson kitchen, and remembering the family cookie jar which was always available and located in the same place.

Perkinson encouraged people in the audience to remember others around them who might be struggling, whether for a meal or simple conversation.

“I hope that neighborhoods never run out of cookies, and Mom and people like you always keep an open spot in their hearts and tables for children,” Perkinson said.

Larry Perkinson

Age: 63

Title: Employee and student assistance coordinator for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Education: Bachelor’s of English from Indiana State University, Master’s of English from Indiana University.

Career: Perkinson has been an educator for 41 years, with all but four years of that in Bartholomew County. He spent his early years in education as an English teacher in Jennings County Schools.

Family: The Columbus native lives in Columbus with his wife, Julie. They are the parents of five daughters, one of whom died in 1997.

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.