Kurt Wehrmeister: Remembering Jerry Perrone

A one-time shoe-shine boy remembers the lessons learned — about Geneva and about war — in a city barber shop more than 40 years ago.

By Kurt Wehrmeister

Jerry Perrone was a big part of my life from a very young age. He gave me my first opportunity to earn my own money, when he let me shine shoes in his shop on Saturdays, school holidays and summers. I started when I was age 9 in 1966, and continued until I was 16 in 1973.

In between, I learned enough about Geneva, first-hand — its people, politics, culture and heritage — to fill books.

I also learned much about a man who loved his family more than breathing — and who worked constantly, it seemed (at his shop five days a week, and on Wednesdays, Saturday nights and Sundays at Sav-Way Liquors) to support his wife, daughters and son.

I also learned from him of the sacrifices that had been made by Geneva's young men who'd gone off to war. Jerry should have been able to graduate from Geneva High in 1943; instead, he went to the Pacific for three years, if memory serves. As I've written before, he spent EasterSunday 1945, just a few weeks after his 20th birthday, on a gunboat off the shore of Okinawa, blasting his 30-cal. into Japanese fortifications, just over the heads of his Marine buddies wading ashore, so that fewer of them would have to die.

And every year on Veterans' Day, Jerry didn't feel he could take time from earning a living to shut the barber shop to go attend the ceremonies at State and Third streets. But, he politely made his 11 a.m. customer wait for just a minute, as he switched off his clippers and faced east for that moment to honor the memory of his comrades in arms, while the sirens sounded. He counted himself lucky — because he had been allowed, in Yeats' words, "to come home and comb grey hair." (And in his case, to clip it as well.)

Jerry's not been himself for years, because of dementia. But now he can be at peace.


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