Happy Birthday, Dad!

I don’t usually post on Saturdays, but today is a special day. It’s the 100th anniversary of my Dad’s birth, and I thought it deserved at least a short CHH mention.

John H. Perkins, 1921 – 2004

My dad lived a long and eventful life, too much to cover in a single blog post. But since our recent Clark House Historian posts have been focused on historic boats and other Clark-era modes of transportation, I thought I’d share a few choice photos of Dad on the go—on water and on land—with a few biographical remarks to set the scene.

Here’s an early example:

John H. Perkins in baby carriage, probably Evanston, Illinois, circa Spring or Summer, 1922. Perkins family collection. Click to open larger image in new window.

The Clark House connection

Dad was born and raised in Evanston, Illinois. His maternal grandmother was Josephine Turck Baker (1858-1942). She was a well-known elocutionist, suffragist, patron of the arts and a very successful author and publisher. As a boy, Dad attended plays, readings, and musical soirées in the third floor ballroom of her spacious Evanston home.

Grandmother Josephine Turck Baker was the daughter of James Byron Turck (1833-1913), the sixth of eight children born to Peter Turck and Rachael Gay. James B. Turck was Mary Turck Clark’s younger brother. He was about 4 years old when the Turck family migrated from Wayne County, New York, to Mequon, Wisconsin Territory.

That makes my father’s maternal grandmother—Josephine Turck (later Josephine Turck Baker)—the niece of Mary (Turck) Clark. And that makes Jonathan M. and Mary (Turck) Clark my father’s great-great aunt and uncle. Mary’s father, Peter Turck (1798-1872), is my father’s great-great grandfather.

After Mary Clark and her children moved to Milwaukee in 1861/62, they lived with Mary’s father Peter Turck. Brother James B. Turck and his young family lived close by. Young Josephine Turck certainly knew her aunt Mary and her Clark cousins.

How much of this Turck and Clark family history did Dad know? Not much, alas. He did have fond memories of his “grandmother Baker,” and a general (and correct) sense that his mother and father both had old and deep roots in Wisconsin. But I don’t think he knew much about his Mequon and Milwaukee family history beyond his Evanston recollections of grandmother Baker, and of summers at the lake.

On the water

Dad and his sisters spent one or more summers “at the lake” in Wisconsin, very likely at a family home on Big Cedar Lake in the town of Polk, Washington County, west and a bit north of the Clark House.

John H. Perkins with sisters Shirley (left) and Carol (right), possibly at the Baker summer house, Big Cedar Lake, Wisconsin, circa late-1920s or very early-’30s. Perkins family collection. Click to open larger image in new window.

For as long as I remember, Dad had a fondness for boats and knew how to sail them. The boat in the photo is not unlike the catboat we discussed near the end of our previous post: a small rowboat with pointed bow, square stern and a mast well forward of the center of the boat. (In this image, there is no mast in place. But if you look closely, the most forward seat, on the left, appears to have a hole for mounting a mast.)

Dad also enjoyed swimming throughout his life, and he had the most beautiful, elegant, and untiring crawl stroke you can imagine. Even in his seventies, he would swim lap after lap, gliding effortlessly through the water for 30 or 45 minutes or more.

The 1940s: college, marriage & bigger boats

Dad worked his way through college (back when that was still possible), and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Northwestern University, majoring in economics and English, with a minor in French. At Northwestern he was a member of Naval ROTC. After graduation, he completed training at the NROTC facility at Abbott Hall, Chicago, and became a “90-day wonder”—a freshly-minted Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

He was sent to Florida for training on sonar and radar. Mom left college and went to Miami so they could marry and set up their first apartment. Their first attempt at housekeeping was short lived; Dad was assigned to duty on destroyer escorts, first USS Darby (DE-218) and later USS Marsh (DE-699). Mom moved back to her parents’ house. Their first apartment together was brief, but the marriage lasted 60 years.

The World War II destroyer escort was certainly a larger ship than a catboat on Big Cedar Lake, but by 1940s standards, the DE was a small fighting ship. Here’s Dad’s USS Marsh (front/left), on convoy duty, 1944:

USS Tulagi (CVE-72) Enroute from New York to Casablanca with a deck cargo of U.S. Army P-38s and P-47s, 2 June 1944. USS Marsh (DE-699) is alongside. Photographed from USS Mission Bay (CVE-59). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-364378. Click to open larger image in new window.

R & R

The war was a formative experience for Dad but, fortunately, not a traumatic one. His ships fired their guns and dropped depth charges from time to time, but he did not experience the worst aspects of modern warfare. When on duty, he took his responsibilities seriously and did his job well. And from time to time he and the crew could enjoy a little rest and relaxation.

Sometime he might get a bit of leave on a Pacific island, grab a Jeep, and find a government-issued cold beverage:

Perkins family collection. Click to open larger image in new window.

Or he might launch his ship’s whaleboat and get the mail or some special treats for the crew from shore, or from the supply ship across the harbor:

Perkins family collection. Click to open larger image in new window.


After the war, Dad returned to Evanston and Mom. He took a job as an assistant teller at one of Chicago’s big banks. They had three children. Over the decades he rose in his profession and became a leader in Chicago business and civic affairs. He and Mom traveled extensively.

His life was not always easy. His mother, older sister, and grandmother Baker died from various lingering illnesses while he was in college. The war kept him away from his new bride for two years. Money was tight during the depression, and for a while after the war. He and Mom each had some challenging health issues over the decades.

All in all though, Dad led a remarkable life, personally and professionally. But most importantly (for me, at least), he was a wonderful father and grandfather. I think of him every day.

Happy 100th, Dad.

John H. Perkins, 1921-2004

3 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Dad!

Comments are closed.