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Philanthropist Charles Perkinson, huge backer of Millikin arts programs, dies at 96

Philanthropist Charles Perkinson, huge backer of Millikin arts programs, dies at 96

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DECATUR - Philanthropist Charles D. "Perk" Perkinson of Decatur, who will always be remembered as a major benefactor of the arts at Milllikin University, died Tuesday night. He was 96.

Perkinson died in his home in Keystone Gardens. Friends said he had been diagnosed with cancer of the blood in recent weeks.

He and his late wife, Pat, donated $8 million, the largest gift in Millikin history, to renovate and expand the Millikin School of Music, renamed the Perkinson Music Center, in 1999. The Perkinsons also gave $1 million in 1997 in Millikin's Advancing the Vision campaign, and they provided funds for the Perkinson Gallery in the Kirkland Fine Arts Center and for the Bronze Man statue on campus near the Richards Treat University Center.

In 2000, the Perkinsons received the Millikin Alumnus of the Year Award. Pat Perkinson, who died in 2007, was a 1945 Millikin graduate. In 2009, Perkinson made a $1 million gift to the Community Foundation of Decatur and Macon County. His gift inspired other donors, leading to a $2 million match from the Grand Victoria Foundation.

In a November ceremony, Perkinson was named 2010 outstanding philanthropist by the East Central Illinois Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Friends said Perkinson became particularly wealthy through shrewd investments after he sold his farm fertilizer business in 1963. He purchased Wal-Mart stock for $2 a share after visiting the Arkansas home base, friends said, sold it for $50 a share and then purchased more stock.

He had a lifelong love for music after paying his way through the University of Illinois by playing the saxophone in a dance band.

"He quit the sax, though, after graduation," said Peggy Luy, Millikin vice president of alumni development "He later taught himself to play the organ, and when he moved to Keystone, he gave the organ to Millikin.

"After the move, he had no place to plant tomatoes, so we planted tomatoes in my backyard. He always insisted on going to one of his farms to get a supply of fresh dirt. During the growing season, he came around frequently to check on the progress.

"When the growing season ended, we would have a tomato fest of food with salad and burgers. Last year, the cold weather ruined the crop."

Luy was in Scotland with the touring Millikin Choir. "Next week, I'll be back, and I'll plant tomatoes in Perk's honor," she said.

Raised on a farm near Thawville, Perkinson established his fertilizer business after serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II. He was one of the first to package fertilizer in pellets, and he designed machines to help spread the fertilizer more efficiently.

A member of the Golden K Kiwanis Club, he suffered from eye problems, including macular degeneration, although he kept it secret. He had also endured several old-age physical ailments, and the cancer was detected in a recent physical checkup.

About his Millikin connection, Louise Kidd, director of donor relations, said Perkinson liked to watch football games, enjoyed preparing shrimp for Millikin dinners and enjoyed seeing the good his contributions did.

"He lived a good, exciting life," she said.

bfallstrom@herald-review.com|421-7981.

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