Steve Perry is finalist for 2014 First Citizen Award

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: DANNY ABREGO PORTLAND REIGN PHOTOGRAPHY - STEVE PERRYWilsonville resident Steve Perry has a wide and varied volunteer résumé.

It varies from serving on an architectural review committee for the Charbonneau Country Club to his work with the innovative Chess for Success program. In addition, he is a key member of the Wilsonville Rotary Club team that hosts a popular series of omelet breakfasts, as well as a key addition to the club’s twice-annual effort on behalf of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility inmates known as Through a Child’s Eyes.

All that and a lot more has led to Perry’s nomination for the 2014 Wilsonville First Citizen Award, given to the community volunteer who best exemplifies the Rotary Club’s motto of “Service above self.”

“I got a phone call, I don’t even remember who from,” Perry said. “I was out of town, but I just felt kind of like, ‘Well, that’s not why I do this.’ It’s nice to be appreciated, but whether you’re appreciated or not doesn’t make any difference. I look at things like Rotary, the things I do I couldn’t do without the Rotary Club. I couldn’t put on a breakfast myself, I couldn’t put on the chess program.”

Nonetheless, in yet another field of highly qualified citizen volunteers, Perry stands out. He and the other three nominees — Leigh Crosby, Vern Wise and Kathryn Whittaker —

will be honored and the First Citizen award announced at Treasures of Wilsonville: The 2014 Heart of Gold banquet, set for 5 p.m. Saturday at the Wilsonville Holiday Inn, 25425 SW 95th Ave. The event, the 13th annual Heart of Gold gala, will include a silent auction and a live auction.

Admission, with choice of entree, is $50 per individual, or $400 for a table of eight. Tickets can be purchased from Bob Harland at 503-705-9727, online at or from any Wilsonville Rotarian.

Perry is a relative latecomer to the world of volunteerism. Where the others grew up in homes with parents who embrace community service, such a notion did not arrive at Perry’s doorstep until much later in life.

“It’s not a long family history,” said Perry. “My mom worked with a family service auxiliary, it’s like a citizen’s committee for the state of California, but I couldn’t’ tell you anything more than that. I never went with her or saw her or did anything else. That’s the extent of what I saw in community service.”

Nearly 25 years ago, however, Perry joined the Beaverton Rotary Club and began volunteering with Meals on Wheels at the Elsie Stuhr Center in Beaverton. It was the beginning of what has blossomed into a second career as a community servant.

“That was my introduction,” he said. “I joined the Beaverton Rotary Club, and as such I saw this need that there were a lot of people in their homes who wanted to live independently but it was too much to keep it up. So I started just brainstorming with the center there and we put together a program with Meals on Wheels.”

That program expanded to provide lawn care and other routine maintenance around the homes of recipients.

“When they saw a neglected house, where the lawn was a foot high, we would go ahead and go out and visit the homeowner,” Perry said. “We’d ask them if they’d like some help and we’d show up on a Saturday morning.”

Together with maybe a dozen other volunteers, the group would clean up neglected homes in a process that often lured neighbors into pitching in.

“We didn’t paint or repair anything,” he said, “but we created it back to life from a landscaping standpoint. And the funny thing was the neighbors came over and started helping and said, ‘We’re not going to let it go back to this way again.’ Everybody won.”

Perry lives in Charbonneau and stays involved with the Charbonneau Country Club and the Rotary Club of Wilsonville, as well as Rolling Hills Community Church. With Rotary, however, Perry has dived in to volunteerism with both feet.

In local schools, starting with Boones Ferry Primary School, he has spearheaded the creation of a Chess for Success program. The program teaches chess to school children through adult mentors, and as of this year is bringing after-school chess instruction to all three Wilsonville primary schools as a way of teaching discipline, math and critical-thinking skills.

Perry said he was captivated by a 2009 presentation on Chess for Success given to Wilsonville Rotarians by visiting dignitary Julie Young. He was fascinated the idea and eventually vowed to bring it to local schools. The first year he virtually single-handedly raised $3,000 for the program and saw it introduced at Boones Ferry Primary School.

Interest was so great, he said, that more children were turned away that first year than the program had space for.

“There was a desire and a need,” Perry said. “We just needed to figure out a way to make it work.”

They did just that. This year, aided by city grant funding, Chess for Success, which was founded in part by best-selling Portland novelist Phil Margolin, now has a presence at Boones Ferry, Boeckman Creek and Lowrie primary schools. The sport, he says, helps kids develop not just academic skills, but intangibles they will need all going forward.

“They start having fun, being competitive, and they develop good sportsmanship,” Perry said. “You develop some skill sets that serve you through life.”

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