Ron Perkins spent most of his life dressed in his daily uniform — a casual button-up shirt and a pair of work pants — in the garage, toiling over a customer’s car as the owner of Perkins Garage, or teaching his children and employees the trade .
Unless he was explaining something, Ron’s presence was silent, save for the soft jingle of the tools he always carried in his pocket.
He was a quiet man, with a calm, humble demeanor and inexhaustible patience that made him the ideal mentor, whether or not he realized it.
“He was a man of few words, but a wealth of knowledge that he shared freely and calmly,” said his daughter, Diana Hayes. “A man who was there for anyone who needed him and for anything that was needed.”
Ronald Thomas Perkins, 78, of Windsor, died on Oct. 17
Born July 15, 1939, Ron was an only child until his brother was born when he was 13. By then, he’d already started his first job at the nearby Esso gas station and helped his parents build their house.
He took a job with General Electric when he turned 18, all the while developing a keen understanding of mechanics and a passion for cars. He took his brother to car auctions and car shows, and taught himself how to detail cars and fix them.
Once, when a friend dented a car, Ron stayed up all night fixing it before the friend’s family could find out.
He opened a garage and car dealership in 1962, a business which burned down several years later. But Ron rebuilt it, and his career in the auto industry, at the helm of Perkins Garage in Windsor, would last 45 years.
“He could transform a wrecked car into a fine-looking automobile,” said friend Lester Stockwell III, a fellow member of Windsor Lodge #422 F. & AM and the Order of Eastern Star.
He was also a workhorse. If Stockwell and his wife along with Ron and his wife of 57 years, Sharon, were out late on a trip to a regional Eastern Star meeting, Ron was always on time to work the next day, Stockwell said.
Ron took on a second career later in life, spending the past 13 years as a sanitor — was responsible for cleaning and sanitizing processing and packaging equipment — at Frito-Lay, right up until the day he died.
He’d be there
When a coworker called in sick, Ron was there. When his boss asked him to take on extra hours, he was there. Even holidays, Ron volunteered to take the shift and let others spend time with their families.
It just meant the Perkins family Christmas dinner might be at noon that year.
“He never missed a day,” said Ron’s son, Dan Perkins.
Ron also earned a reputation among his family as the rescuer when it came to car trouble.
His long list of rescues fills the eulogy Hayes wrote for her father’s funeral. There was the time his daughter, Doreen Cadwell, locked herself out of her car three times in one day. Ron showed up each time with an extra set of keys.
Then there was Ron’s niece, Stacy, “a frequent rescue customer,” Hayes said. Ron fixed up her car every time she heard a noise.
And when Ron’s first grandchild was about to be born, he jumped out of bed and followed behind his daughter in his own car with a can of gas — he always kept one on hand, just in case someone needed rescuing — for the 30-mile trip to the hospital, dressed in his bathrobe and work boots.
“Never needed a thank you, never wanted any kind of recognition at all, it was just what he did,” Hayes said.
Inside the garage
Given Ron’s humble nature, his family said he didn’t realize he’d had a profound impact on many lives.
But he did.
Through the years, dozens of men and women learned about cars from Ron, tinkering in the garage and listening intently as the experienced mechanic showed them exactly how he did each step.
There were those who learned how to drive from Ron, others who learned a trade that fueled their career.
He was a great teacher, his family said, due in large part to his unwavering patience.
When Dan Perkins was learning to prepare a car for a paint job in the garage, his father stood quietly watching behind him while Dan repeatedly asked, “How’s that Dad?”
First there wasn’t enough putty, then too much. By the time Dan had asked a third time what his father thought, he lost his temper, grabbed a hammer and slammed it into the car’s fender.
“Well,” his father calmly said in response to his son’s outburst. “Now you’ve got to fix that too.”
“He’d never get mad, never yelled,” Dan said. “He’d just walk away.”
Dan learned a strong work ethic from his father, as he started working in the garage when he was 10 years old and earning $0.50 an hour. By the time he was 14, he’d painted his first car.
“He taught me everything,” Dan said.
‘He believed in me’
Another person who benefited from Ron’s wisdom was Robert Sulkowski. During his teenage years, Sulkowski, who has cerebral palsy, was a foster child at the Perkins’s home. They welcomed him back to live at the family’s Windsor home for a few years after college as well, he said, “out of the grace of their hearts.”
One of Sulkowski’s goals was to earn a driver’s license. No one thought he could do it, he said, except Ron.
“Nobody else thought I could ever drive a car,” Sulkowski said. “He believed in me enough that we got it done.”
Sulkowksi found a kindred spirit in Ron’s laid back, nonchalant attitude. When he was in the garage watching Ron work on cars, Sulkowksi said Ron “was very good at explaining everything he was doing,” and he was never in a hurry.
The same was true of teaching Sulkowski how to drive.
The pair often took Friday night trips in a 1991 Oldsmobile to the local convenience store about 30 minutes away, talking about everything. Sulkowski had his learner’s permit at the time, but he said the trips meant a lot more to him than gaining driving experience.
“It was the ride, the conversation,” he said. “We’d talk about everything, you name it. It was almost like a father-son kind of thing. That honestly was what meant the most to me.”
Sulkowski earned his driver’s license, and the achievement was as treasured as the time spent out in the garage with Dan and Ron, toiling away the hours after dinner watching Ron fix up and fine tune the cars he had out there.
“I learned more in that garage than I did anywhere else,” Sulkowski said. “He was a good man and he deserves to be honored in the way that he should.”
Ronald Thomas Perkins is survived by his wife of 57 years, Sharon Brenchley Perkins; his children, Diana (Michael Mosher) Hayes of Endicott, Daniel (Mary Canfield) Perkins of West Windsor, Doreen (Hamilton) Cadwell of Whitney Point; his grandchildren, Jason (Cari), Kyle (Danielle), Rachel, Melissa (Matt), Corey and Ryan; seven great grandchildren, Carmin, Alexis, Jordis, Anna, Logan, Tyler and Ethan; his brother, John (Kathy) Perkins of Vestal, their children Stacy and Brian; sister-in-law, Sylvia (John) Battista of Harpursville and their children, Jeremiah, Jesse and Patrick; son-in-law, Donald Hayes; daughter-in-law, Anita (Andy) Survila; many nieces, nephews, cousins and many pets.
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