Although he was short in stature, Anthony “Tony” Perry, all 5-foot-2 of him, was looked up to by many when it came to Kankakee County economic development and civic leadership.
“During his tenure here, he was a force who did many things,” said fellow developer Joe Franco. “He was a good friend, and he was looking out for the good of the community.”
A longtime area developer and former leader of Tony Perry Commercial Real Estate and the Area Jobs Development Associates, Perry died Friday at the Manteno Veteran’s Home. He was 88.
“Tony Perry did this community a service. He was a vital member of our business community,” Franco said. “I was proud to have had him as a friend.”
Perry came to Kankakee from Chicago Heights in 1963. He worked with businessman Romy Hammes and developed the Kankakee eastside subdivision of Marycrest and much of the commercial property in that area.
Former two-term Kankakee Mayor Russell Johnson met Perry in 1964. The two men stayed in contact for much of the following 30 years.
“He certainly wound things up,” Johnson said. “Things just worked for him. I never had trouble dealing with Tony Perry. Tony did a lot of good around here.”
Perry, along with the mayors of Kankakee, Bradley and Bourbonnais, began the not-for-profit organization, Area Jobs Development Association in 1982. This was in the time frame when Kankakee County was experiencing economic devastation due to the loss of thousands of jobs as a result of the closings of Roper Corp. and A.O. Smith Co.
Area Jobs was based in the then-vacant former Roper plant in Bradley.
In 1991, Perry introduced the region to the not-for-profit organization Christmas in April, a program that organized community volunteers to provide house rehab labor for area elderly and low-income residents.
During his 10 years of leadership, Christmas in April helped rehab some 400 homes.
“He meant so much to this area,” said former Bradley Mayor Bruce Adams. “He was the one who campaigned to bring start-up businesses back to the Roper site and make that area viable.
“He had a vision for what our area could be even when things were not going well. He had the connections to help get things done,” Adams said. “For a little guy, he had the guts of a football lineman.”
Chris Curtis, co-owners of Kankakee-based Nugent Curtis Real Estate, began his career working for Perry.
In 1991 Curtis was fresh out of college and looking for work. Perry employed him as a painter. So impressed that Curtis showed up every day for work, he wanted him as part of his team.
Curtis, also a Kankakee alderman, worked with Perry in the Tony Perry Commercial Real Estate Group from 1992 until 2008.
“He was a good man,” Curtis said. “He was fiery. He was certainly my mentor. I learned a lot from Tony Perry. I cut my teeth with Tony. I always had tons of respect for him.”