It matters little to me if the St. Joseph School District closes Central High School. Central was and is about the people, not the structure itself.
When one of my Central classmates or teachers dies, that’s what takes a brick out of the structure for me. The structure is made up of memories and friendships more than brick and mortar.
When Jim Perry died last week at the age of 78, he took a huge piece of the school with him.
I never had a class with Coach Perry nor was he my coach. He coached golf. But Coach Perry was just one of those people and teachers everyone knew. It was perhaps because he had a warm and friendly personality. He was always dressed in a smile, always just coach.
Coach Perry ended his coaching career in 2013 after 12 seasons with the Missouri Western State University Griffons.
A Lafayette High School graduate, Coach Perry played basketball and baseball for St. Joseph Junior College before it became Missouri Western and at Midland Lutheran College in Nebraska.
He came back to St. Joseph for a teaching job at Central in 1965 with a desire to coach baseball.
After all, he played for the first Ban Johnson baseball team in the area and played on a slow-pitch softball state championship team. But Central needed a golf coach, and that’s what he did as well as coaching basketball and football.
“In high school back in those times, they just needed bodies to coach, I guess you could say,” Perry said in a St. Joseph News-Press interview. “They knew I was interested in all sports ... it was about what I could teach the kids.”
Under his watch, the Central boys finished in the top four in the Missouri State Golf Championships 11 times and own three straight Class 4A state titles from 1992 to 1994. The girls golf teams were in the top four at state five times.
After leaving Central, Coach Perry became Missouri Western’s golf coach. He retired in 2013 after a 12-year stint there during which he made the Western golf team a near constant in the MIAA Conference’s upper levels.
Perhaps one of his greatest accomplishments is in being a well-thought-of and respected man. People years removed from high school mourned his passing.
Last week, Bob Brandt, a former Central classmate, stopped me on Ninth Street — blocking one lane of traffic — to talk about Coach Perry’s passing and his legacy. Every conversation I have about Coach Perry always ends with “He was a good man.” This was no different.
To leave that kind of memory with everyone means you truly were a special and genuine person.
If there’s a golf course in heaven, Coach Perry is making holes-in-one on every hole, no doubt.