Frank Perrella never planned to go to college.
At 17, and with his parents’ blessing, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy to serve his country. Two years later he was home again, working days and studying nights to earn his high school Regents diploma.
A small act of kindness changed his life. One fateful day, Frank gave a friend a ride from Gloversville to Hartwick to take the admissions entrance exam. College Registrar Fannie Bishop made a point of meeting Frank, told him about the GI Bill, and encouraged him to take the exam himself. He did well and enrolled within months.
The road to a Hartwick College degree was tough at times. “At any other school I wouldn’t have made it,” Frank asserts. “Professors took an interest in me. They expected a lot and I worked hard.” One lasting lesson: “You get out of anything exactly what you put in it.”
Frank’s greatest support came from an Oneonta girl who became the love of his life. Frank married Barbara Michaud while he was still a student and the couple went on to raise three children – Joseph, Sharon, and Diane Perrella ’75. They enjoyed a full life together before Barbara was taken by cancer in 1977.
On the Past is Built the Future
Tradition guided Frank’s choices post-graduation. He joined Perrella Glove Co., owned and operated by his father, Joe, in Gloversville, one of the largest glove-producing cities in the United States. Joe had emigrated from Italy as a baby, the latest generation in a family of tanners from Naples and glove makers from Milan. Joe apprenticed as a cutter, opened his own shop at just 19, and became a respected designer of women’s gloves.
While the father loved design, the son loved the leather – working the rough, hairy, raw material into something flawless, supple, and beautiful. “It’s dirty; really dirty and smelly,” Frank says, laughing, clearly relishing the hands-on nature of his life’s work.
In 1966, with his entrepreneurial spirit as his guide, Frank founded JBF Industries Inc. (a tannery named for son Joe, wife Barbara, and himself). Thirty years later he sold the success story to one of his clients and became president of Geo Golf Corp. in Florida.
And that is how he made the money that’s funding the future for so many Hartwick students.
“When I made my first million, I didn’t stop working,” Frank says, scoffing at the very idea. “I love to work. I love to make money. I love to give away money.” His credo is stunning in its simplicity, and massive in its impact.
Not One, Not Two, But Three
Hartwick’s Perrella Wellness Center is named in his honor, a prominent campus reminder of one alumnus’ allegiance to his college. Frank’s commitment to the upcoming Campaign for Hartwick Students is unrestricted, a statement of his confidence in Hartwick’s leadership. “I think Margaret Drugovich is great,” he says of the president. “She has brains and business smarts.”
His legacy unfolds each year in the form of the Frank Perrella Scholarships; the annual proceeds of three endowed funds he established years ago and continues to grow with generous annual gifts.
“I believe all kids should have a chance to go to college,” Frank says.”The government helped me with the GI Bill; why can’t I help Hartwick students the same way?”
This one man has created six annual scholarships for students pursuing three very different disciplines.
The Frank E. Perrella Scholarships are awarded to a rising sophomore and a rising junior who have demonstrated academic achievement and promise in their fields. At Honors Convocation each spring, the names of six thrilled students are called as the newest Perrella scholars. They are students of History (“You can’t learn without the past,” says this former history major); Management/Business Administration (“The world runs on business”); and Music (“That was Diane’s major and I love it”).
Each award reduces the cost of attending Hartwick by thousands of dollars. His gifts help current students with financial need stay at Hartwick to continue their studies and their personal development. Each award also offers intangibles: a vote of confidence in the students’ talents and interests, a statement of support for their future at Hartwick and beyond.
Recognition in Return
Letters and numbers follow the name of Frank Perrella: ’50 designates his year of graduation, of course; H’93 denotes the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters he was awarded in 1993 for his many forms of service; PM’12 stands for the President’s Medal he just received in recognition of the transformative impact he has had on the College and its students; and P’75 shows that he is a very proud Hartwick parent. (Add great uncle to the list for his niece Anne Salluzzo ’08.) Also of great import: his 10-year service on the Hartwick College Board of Trustees and 2006 designation as Trustee Emeritus. Just as Frank cherishes the lifelong Hartwick friends of his past, so does he strive to support Hartwick students in the future. By choosing to make gifts to endowment, Frank Perrella has ensured that many talented young people, like himself more than 50 years ago, will have access to the opportunities of Hartwick College.
This portrait appeared in The Wick magazine, Summer 2012