by Bonnie Dugan
“This place was 100 years old when I first started.”
Standing in the same gymnasium where he had played many basketball games in the early 1960s, Allan T. Perkins, with his wife, Sheila, and daughter, Kim, relived his teenage years at Northern Home for Children almost 52 years later.
In the summer of 1962, right before his freshman year at Roxborough High School at the age of 15, Perkins, now 68, was sent to live at Northern Home for Children, 5301 Ridge Ave. in lower Roxborough. Prior to that, he had lived in a total of 10 foster care homes. He came from a large family and was the youngest of seven children.
At one point or another, Allan’s siblings also lived at Northern Home for Children. A recent trip home for a family reunion is what brought Perkins back to what is now referred to as Northern Children’s Services.
“When I came to live here,” said Perkins, who now lives in Houston, Texas, “I was extremely defensive, and when something happened, I kind of went into protective mode.”
Perkins attended Roxborough High School the entire time he lived at Northern and graduated in June, 1966, at the age of 19. During his time there, he worked on the audio-visual team, ran track, played soccer for three years and took a lot of shop courses but admits that going to college was never something that was encouraged or expected of him. “I got the impression that that was not unusual for kids at my age,” Perkins explained.
One thing that always fascinated Perkins was airplanes and flying, but because he wore glasses, he was always discouraged from it. That would all change when he voluntarily entered the Air Force in November, 1966. “When someone told me I couldn’t do something, I was determined to try,” Perkins said.
MSgt Perkins attended the General Aircraft Maintenance School for Reciprocating Engine Aircraft at the Sheppard AFB, Texas. In May, 1967, Perkins was sent to Athens, Greece, where he was an airport crew chief, and in 1969, he was assigned to an aero repair shop at Mather AFB, California.
In April, 1971, he was sent to Vietnam, where he served as a combat flight engineer. Perkins eventually became an instructor and instructor supervisor with the School of Aerospace Sciences, Sheppard AFB, Texas.
Throughout his Air Force career, Perkins earned numerous honors, including the National Defense Service Medal with bronze star, Vietnam Campaign Medal with four bronze stars, Air Force Longevity Medal with five oakleaf clusters, etc. In January of 2007, Perkins retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Despite never having been encouraged to further his education, Perkins began taking night courses while in the Air Force and wound up earning six college degrees. Since 2000, he’s also written three books, 22 Christmas stories and several other stories, which are all available online.
“While I was at the Northern Home,” he said, “I used to go to a little church that was recommended by another child. These visits inspired me so much that I wanted to be a minister, but my time in the military put a hold on that dream.”
While he never made it to divinity school, that didn’t discourage Perkins from becoming a Chaplain. “If I want to do things, I’ll find a way to do them,” Perkins said. “In 1993, after I got out of the Air Force I joined the VFW and within weeks became the Chaplain of my local post. I still am. I also have been serving as a District Chaplain and Assistant State Chaplain of the VFW.
“In June of 2014 I was elected as Supreme (national) Chaplain and still hold the position. The best we can figure out, for at least 25-26 years before I took office, all the Supreme Chaplains of the MOC have been ordained ministers of some Christian denomination before they took office. I was not.” (Ed. Note: MOC is “The Military Order of the Cootie.” MOC is the honor degree of the VFW.)
In the cafeteria at the Northern Home, the same spot where he ate all of his meals as a teenager, Perkins sat with his wife and daughter and told this story of his extraordinary life. With tears in her eyes, his wife said, “It’s amazing to see the man he turned out to be, and we are so proud. He still loves where he comes from.”
Perkins admits he was nervous about coming back to the Northern Home. However, he was anxious to show his wife and daughter where he grew up. His daughter said, “He’s never given me the option of ‘No, you can’t do that.’”
Bonnie Dugan is the Manager of Marketing & Communications for the Northern Home for Children. More information at 215-482-1423, ext. 1323.