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Daniel J. Perrino, beloved U. of I. educator, dies at 91

8/18/2012 | Dusty Rhodes, Arts & Humanities Editor | 217-333-0568;

[ Email | Share ] CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Daniel J. Perrino, professor emeritus of music and recipient of the Chancellor’s Medallion at the University of Illinois, died Friday at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana. He was 91.

Daniel Perrino
Daniel J. Perrino | Photo provided by Perrino family

Perrino joined the U. of I. faculty in 1960 and went on to hold more than half a dozen appointments, including associate dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, coordinator of Alumni Affairs and Development, and eight years as the dean of campus programs and services. The popular campus tradition now known as Quad Day was launched by Perrino in 1971 to help “radical” students express their concerns. He also helped establish the Black Chorus, La Casa Cultural Latina, and the African-American Cultural Program.

In a letter recommending Perrino for the Chancellor’s Medallion in 2001, Clarence Shelley, now special assistant to the chancellor, described Perrino as a role model for the university. “He has, by dint of his energy and his active commitment to the best ideals of this institution, raised the standard by which we should measure service and the hope for what Martin Luther King Jr. called a ‘beloved community,’ ” Shelley wrote.

Perrino was moved into the office of student affairs in 1968, as tensions increased during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.

Willard Broom, who later became associate dean of students, was then a student, one of Perrino’s undergraduate employees. Broom remembers someone asking if Perrino played music all the time in the office, and saying no – because Perrino never stayed in the office.

“He was always out meeting with the students, thinking about how programs and activities and life on campus could be better,” Broom recalled Friday. “He had a powerful belief in the goodness of people, and that was reflected in the way he did his duties, and it was reflected in the way people reacted to him.”

Perrino used music as a way to change the mood of the campus, taking over the hotly contested “free speech area” of the student union one day at noon with a group of musicians he had gathered to play Dixieland music. They called themselves Medicare 7, 8 or 9 – because of the ages of the musicians and the changing number who would show up.

“Next thing you know,” Broom said, “there were 200 people there – students, faculty, staff, secretaries – something that just wasn’t seen anywhere else. That was his belief – that music would pull people together. And it did.”

Don Heitler, now a well-known pianist in the Champaign-Urbana community, said that by the time Perrino got back to his office, he had a flurry of calls from people wanting Medicare to perform, and the band became touring ambassadors for the university. “One time we played Baltimore, and there were maybe a dozen people there,” Heitler said. “But one of those people ended up giving the university $250,000.”

Heitler said one of Perrino’s strengths was as a mentor to young people.
“I don’t know how many young kids Danny affected,” Heitler said. “It’d be a whole lot of them. And he had the same effect on adults.”

Perrino helped inspire many other donations. In 2008, one of his former students, Sheila Johnson – a founding partner of Black Entertainment Television – donated $4 million to establish two endowed chairs, one in Perrino’s name.

Perrino’s eyesight deteriorated but he remained healthy and musically active. At his 90th birthday, when friends and former students wanted to sing “Happy Birthday,” he stopped them and said, “I need to play the piano,” then asked if the key of F suited everyone. He moved on to “The Alma Mater” and “Bicycle Built for Two.”

Perrino, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s in fine and applied arts at Illinois, in 1948 and 1949, respectively, was honored with the alumni association’s Distinguished Service Award in 1981, given “to recognize alumni, faculty, staff and friends of the University of Illinois who have consistently demonstrated extraordinary commitment, dedication and service for the advancement of the institution.”

Perrino is survived by his wife, Marjorie, of Urbana; their children, Donald, of Urbana; Debbi Dillman, of Urbana; Michael, of Naperville, Ill.; and three grandchildren: David Perrino, of Omaha, Neb.; and Liza and Carie Perrino, both of Naperville.

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Editor's note: Additional information, including Daniel Perrino in storyteller mode, on organizing the first Quad Day and on coping with campus demonstrations

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