Voices: Dave Bechtel remembers Dan Perrino and other unsung heroes

Voices: Dave Bechtel remembers Dan Perrino and other unsung heroes


I was privileged to have Dan Perrino as my lifelong friend, first boss and mentor.

One of the eulogists in Dan's memorial event was Willard Broom, former associate dean of students. He, too, had Dan as his first boss, mentor and friend and recounted the volatile and exciting period of 1968-1972. When I wrote to compliment him, his response was, "Yes, we caught lightning in a bottle when we joined on in Dan's operation!"

There has never been a time like it. Protests by young people against the war in Vietnam and the "establishment" brought out the state police and the National Guard to restore order. In the midst of the acrimony was Dan Perrino, Hugh Satterlee, the dean of students, and Jack Peltason, the chancellor. There were other players like Tom Morgan, John Scoufass, Clarence Shelley, Frank Nasca, Kenn Allen and Paul Doebel, but those three had the fate of the campus in their hands, like presidents and deans at every other college in the United States. Willard was a student worker, I was a very young assistant dean and with another student worker, Mark Herriot, now of Herriot's Columbia Street Roastery fame, signed on as "gofers" and got a front row seat for the most significant crisis in University of Illinois history.

Dan, Hugh, Mark, Willard and I recorded memories for the University Archives. Dan felt that people had forgotten the original purpose of Quad Day and minimized the dangers of that period. Transcripts and recordings can be accessed by Googling "Archives Oral History Quad Day." Here are some highlights:

Dan recalled, "... there was an awful lot of ill feeling on the campus that we had to deal with." Mark remembered the National Guard lined up on Wright Street up to the library, and the rock throwing and destruction of Campustown windows. Hugh remembered that the O&M guys covered the rocks with plastic coating so they couldn't get picked up. There was enormous tension and Dan mentioned, "It seemed like what we were doing was reacting to problems rather than being proactive. We were looking for a way to get on top of things."

"Different things fell into place," Dan remembered. "We were trying to get students to realize that Hugh Satterlee was not an ogre and the chancellor was not a devil." And so, Dan assembled the Medicare 7, 8, or 9 Dixieland band. A rumor center was activated during demonstrations to answer parent and community concerns. Staff were out in the streets talking with students, and Dan created a "county fair-like" event called Quad Day to bring students, faculty, administrators and community leaders together to reduce tension and have fun. Hugh Satterlee and his staff played a volleyball game against the student government officers. Jack Peltason had a yo-yo contest with all comers, and won. In the evening, a faculty-staff amateur talent show featured the Medicare band playing back up and John Scouffas (the dean of student's front man on demonstrations) astonishing the crowd with his rendition of Granada.

One of the call-ups for the rumor center happened while I was on a National Guard weekend, so Dan pressed my new bride, Ann, into service. Other spouses were also recruited. Such was the spirit.

Willard was our man in the crowd. He got caught up in a state police sweep of the Quad and carried away with the rest of the protesters.

Hugh Satterlee picked up the chancellor at his office to meet up with the state police and the National Guard who were mustering at the Assembly Hall. Well, Hugh drove him by intramural fields where students were playing ball and tossing Frisbees, tennis courts, and parks where student couples were kissing. He had made his point, and the chancellor decided to keep the campus open.

In the oral history, Hugh remembers, "All of the other state colleges closed. And of the Big Ten ... all but three closed for at least one day. We didn't."

The University of Illinois didn't close in those turbulent times because Dan Perrino, Hugh Satterlee and Jack Peltason and other unsung heroes got people talking to each other and focusing on things in common rather than the differences in conflict. Quad Day is an annual campus event, Medicare 7, 8, or 9 traveled the world as ambassadors for the university, and Willard, Mark, Hugh and I mourn the passing of Dan Perrino who, during a few exciting years of his long and distinguished career, "captured lightning in a bottle."

Dave Bechtel of Champaign has three degrees from the University of Illinois and retired from a 36-year career at the university as director of Illinois' career center.

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