The Perry Brothers

Written on: October 11, 2020

Article by: Geoffrey Ellis

THE PERRY BROTHERS

The lives of the Perry brothers, Eugene, Charles, Donald, and Ralph combine in a remarkable record of service and achievement—a record that deserves to be remembered and appreciated.

The Perry brothers grew up on an eighty-four acre farm that is situated on the bank of Spring Creek, just west of the village of Tintern, Clinton Township (in the Niagara district of Ontario). Their farm had an ancestral tie with the Huntsman branch of their family. The influence of their Huntsman ancestors was strong in the beginning and early years of the Tintern Church of Christ—their great-grandfather, Adam Huntsman, was the contractor for the original Tintern church building. Their great uncle, Lution Huntsman, was active in its planting in 1891, and the one who donated the property for the building.

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Another notable achievement of their forbears was the Huntsman mill that served the community for much of the 19th century. Its site was downstream from the Perry farm on Spring Creek, near the church’s present location. A modest stream, yet by collecting its flow in a millpond, it was able to drive a saw mill, a grist mill, and a cabinet making shop. It serves as a model of the quiet flow of values – of family, church, and community – that provided a reservoir of energy that worked its life-shaping influences on the Perry brothers.

The Huntsman Mill. An oil painting of the Huntsman mill, painted in 1924, by Charrie Ellis, daughter of Electa (Huntsman) Tallman—a symbol of quiet strength.

The Tintern Church. The meeting house of the Tintern Church of Christ in early days, built no doubt with lumber sawed in the Huntsman mill.

The Perry brothers, August 11,1945, (L to R), Ralph, Donald, Charles, and Eugene.

Their record includes the brothers’:

  • Personal education, including several graduate degrees
  • Service in Christian education,as teachers and administrators in Christian schools at home and abroad
  • Service within churches in Canada, the US, and overseas
  • Mission work in India, Nigeria, Thailand, and Zambia,
  • Christian journalism, along with authoring books and bookstore operations.

From modest beginnings, their combined influence has been a blessing to the church in Canada, the U.S., and around the world.

The ‘Perry brothers’ were the children of Grace Perry, daughter of William and Theste (Huntsman) Stewart of Tintern, and Alfred Ernest Perry, son of Charles and Mary Perry of Perryville Saskatchewan. (Charles was from County Donegal, Ireland, and had spent five years in the U.S. army before moving to Saskatchewan. Mary was of the York family that had migrated to Saskatchewan from Meaford.) Theste had received a portion of the Spring Creek farm from her father, Adam Huntsman. Ernest’s mother, Mary, dying of TB, had urged her son to attend Beamsville Bible School. Ernest was sixteen when he came to the school in Beamsville. Ernest and Grace met while students there. They married on April 7, 1920. The couple settled in Silverdale before moving to the farm on Spring Creek, with the passing of grandfather William Stewart.

They had eight children, including four daughters, Mary, Mabel, Amy, and Myrna.

Eugene:

Eugene Charles Perry was born on July 19, 1922, in Silverdale, the second child, after Mary, of Grace and Ernest. The family farm was a dairy farm with milking done by hand. Eugene’s hands were not suited to milking, so he was assigned to bringing water to the cows, two pails at a time! He attended public school at USS#5, a one -room school. In 1937 at the age of fourteen, Eugene was baptized by C. G. McPhee, during a meeting at the Beamsville Church of Christ being conducted by Roy Cogdill. He attended Omagh Bible School in the summer of 1942. He admitted to being shy when asked about his early public role in the church. He bought his first car when he was fourteen—too young to gain a driver’s license! How did he earn enough money? By picking strawberries in Jordan!

He graduated from Beamsville high school, completing grade 13, in 1942. That same year he received an acceptance letter from David Lipscomb College, and also a draft notice from the Canadian army. As a conscientious objector Eugene served as a non-combatant with the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps (RCOC), and in early 1944 moved into the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RCEME). He served for three and a quarter years in all.

He then enrolled in Abilene Christian College, arriving in late 1945 or early 1946. At the first social event he attended he met Evelyn Huffard, from Missouri. Evelyn was teaching in the college’s elementary school. They married on December 23, 1946.

Eugene and Evelyn had four children, Patricia, Linda, David, and Martha.

Eugene graduated the spring of 1948 from ACC with a B. A., a major in Bible and minor in Greek. He built a small house trailer for their journey to the west coast where Eugene enrolled in George Pepperdine College in Los Angeles. Here he continued his studies in Church History in the Masters program, completing the classwork for his M. A. degree in 1949. The thesis that he chose, however, required extensive research and was entitled: “A History of Periodicals in the Restoration Movement in Canada.” This work took over two decades to complete while Eugene worked full-time as a teacher and publisher, submitting it to Pepperdine University in 1971. It was recognized by Pepperdine in the exceptional delayed category, with the M. A. degree awarded in that same year. His work stimulated interest in the Restoration Movement in Canada. Harding University, Searcy, Arkansas, also recognized his significant work as a historian and educator by awarding him the honorary Doctor of Laws degree (LLD) in 1974.

Following their stay in Los Angeles, Eugene and Evelyn returned east to work with the LaSalle Church of Christ in Niagara Falls, NY. Then, answering a pioneering call, the Perrys moved in the fall of 1950 to Saskatchewan, to teach at Radville Christian College which was then in its sixth year. After working there two years they received an invitation to come back home to aid in the opening of Great Lakes Christian College, in Beamsville, Ontario, in September 1952. Eugene was the school’s first teacher, working alongside his high school and college schoolmate, Bruce Merritt, principal. Evelyn had teaching responsibilities as well.

Perrys lived at first in the faculty apartment, in the servant quarters of the original Gibson Estate. In 1954 they moved to an on-campus apartment, in the Snure House (also known as the Beam House). Then during the two summer months of 1956, Eugene built their own home on property adjoining the campus. (He recently admitted that he was still working on the house that December!) He is still living in this house! Eugene became principal of GLCC in the ‘57-58’ school year, a position that he held for sixteen years until 1973. During 1973-1974, he served as Admissions and Guidance Counselor. Eugene, upon returning from Africa in 1983, taught at GLCC for another two years, serving the Ontario school for a total of twenty-four years.

In 1953, from J. C. Bailey, Eugene and Roy Merritt took on the publication of the Gospel Herald, and co-edited the Canada-wide paper serving Churches of Christ. Space was set aside for the growing store of books and church supplies in the Perry’s new home. Each month the Perry family would gather to prepare the Gospel Herald for mailing across Canada.

In 1974 Eugene and Evelyn went to Zambia to work with the Namwianga Christian Secondary School at Kalomo. Eugene served as Headmaster, working closely with Dr. George Benson, the school’s current promoter and past president of Harding University. Evelyn also taught and served in counseling. Then for three years they worked with a preacher training school in Livingstone, Zambia. During their nine year stay in Zambia they visited and supported a number of congregations.

In 1983 the Perrys returned to Canada where Eugene once again taught at Great Lakes and resumed his work with the Gospel Herald, a work he continued until 2000 when he turned his work over to Max Craddock. His final years of service included being an elder of the Tintern congregation and preaching in area churches. Evelyn passed away on January 1, 2013, at age 92. Eugene celebrated his 98th birthday in July of this year (2020).

Charles:

Charles Stewart Perry was born October 6, 1923. Rather than continuing on in his public education, Charles chose to support the family farm, allowing his brothers to challenge the broader world. One of the sons was needed to continue at home! He was baptized with his brother Eugene in 1937.

He was 14 when he attended the winter Ontario Bible School in Selkirk from December 1, 1937 to February 28, 1938. (This school operated for at least three years concluding with the 1937-38 year)

Cecil T. Bailey of Saskatchewan was the principal while Stanley McInery, of Selkirk, Ontario was the teacher. The author of this piece remembers Charles managing the vineyard that was earlier located on what is now the athletic field at Great Lakes Christian College.

Charles later met a young lady who was teaching at Great Lakes Christian College named Frances Brummit, Frances had been friends with Myrna Perry at David Lipscomb College, and she had stayed with the Perrys during her first weekend in Canada. Frances’ friendship with Myrna piqued Charles’ interest. They became acquainted and friendship blossomed. Charles and Frances married in her hometown of Gleason Tennessee on June 28, 1958. The Gospel Herald directories list Charles as the secretary of the Tintern congregation from 1950 until he married.

Charles was not able to continue farming as he had an extreme sensitivity to goldenrod weed along with other allergies. Both Charles and Frances had health conditions that required a dryer climate, so following their wedding they moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. Here their five children were born, Dawn, Chris, Jody, Velvet, and Melody. Charles delivered bread for the first few years before starting a dry cleaning and laundry business. Frances helped with the accounting, and as the children got older she also sold real estate.

Early in their time in Colorado, they helped to plant a new church of Christ in the Colorado Springs area, the Security Church of Christ. It is reported that Charles was active in setting up Bible studies as he met people in his business. (According to Ralph: “Charles probably taught more people the Gospel personally and face to face than his preacher brothers.”) Charles served as an elder in that congregation for a number of years. The Security Church of Christ was listed as supporting the Donald Perry mission in India. After Charles retired, he and Frances went on a mission trip to Thailand with Richard Taylor. (Richard was married to Mabel, Charles’ sister.)

Frances passed away on November 13, 1998, and Charles passed away December 19, 2015.

Donald:

Donald Ernest Perry was born September 2, 1926, the fifth child of the Perry family. Donald studied at Beamsville High School but finished his high school studies at David Lipscomb College. He traveled to Nashville in 1944, a month after his brother Ralph, where he enrolled in both high school and college courses. He was named “the most representative boy” among his college freshman class. Donald and Ralph worked on campus to finance their studies, shoveling coal into the college buildings’ furnaces. They roomed together most of their years in college. Donald and Ralph preached in churches scattered in Middle Tennessee. They were active in sports—Don won the mile race in 1946, and placed second—after Ralph—in 1947!

Don completed the four year course in just two plus years, graduating in 1948 with a B. A., a major in Speech, a minor in Bible. That year he was the recipient of the “Bachelor of Ugliness” award, the highest honour for male students at Lipscomb!

Donald went then to Huntington (near Fort Wayne), Indiana, where he preached for the Gardendale and Elm Church of Christ, and took courses in Speech at the Huntington College Seminary. That fall he moved to Toronto where he enrolled in the Master of Arts program in the University of Toronto. Here he convinced the dean that he should be accepted as an accredited student, not as probationary. He studied there for two years and received a degree in Philosophy, in 1952.

While in Toronto he preached for the Maplewood Church of Christ. And there he met his future wife, Miriam Cameron. They married September 6, 1952. The Perrys had eight children, Grayce, Barbra, Joan, Shirley, Sally, Robert, Roger, and James, born in India. On their honeymoon, they drove to Radville, Saskatchewan! Here Donald taught for three years at Radville Christian College, 1952-1955. During this time they lived in a house, designed and built by Donald’s uncle, Wilford Orr! In 1955, the Perrys moved to Delhi, Ontario, where Donald taught high school science, and during the summer months, 1955-57, at the UT, College of Education, earned the Bachelor of Education degree, in Science and Math, and certification for secondary school teaching. Donald and his growing family then moved to Beamsville where Donald began his first tour of teaching at Great Lakes Christian College, 1956-1963, seven years in all. Here he taught Bible, Science, Physics, and Math. In August, 1963, Donald and Miriam and their seven children traveled to Shillong, India, where they began a fourteen year mission with the Khasi people.

Considerable interest had developed in the late 1950s among North American Christians in the mission opportunity in the region of Assam, India, where an indigenous Christian movement had developed over the previous two decades among the Khasi hill people. This writer remembers being in an assembly at Abilene Christian College at which J. C. Bailey was the guest speaker. He addressed this opportunity and spoke of the movement’s invitation for missionaries to come and help. He also identified that only citizens of British Commonwealth countries could receive permits to enter this restricted region in India. Brother Bailey followed up with an article in the Gospel Herald describing the opportunity for Canadian evangelists—naming a dozen or so Canadian preachers who would qualify for the mission! Answering the call were David Hallett and Ray McMillan who developed Alpha Bible College in the city of Shillong, targeting the people of north-east India, and Donald Perry, whose mission was with the Khasi people.

The Perrys located in the suburb of Mawlai, serving the congregation there and encouraging the dozen congregations in the Khasi hill country of Assam (the area becoming Meghaleya in 1970). Donald and Miriam, learning the Khasi language, worked in India fourteen years, 1963 to 1977, with a furlough home during 1973-74. Donald served as headmaster of the Mawlai Christian School that grew to 400 students (at capacity), elementary through secondary school. Miriam, a registered nurse, worked free in the school as well, teaching and nursing, holding clinics before and after school. Donald would often preach three times on Sundays.

Their return to Canada in 1973 for their furlough included an epic journey, the family traveling by bus from India through to London. Their intention was to ride a tour bus the entire way, but a series of difficulties resulted in their having to take public buses, with all their luggage, from Pakistan to Turkey, then on through Greece and Yugoslavia, and across Europe to London. The trip from Mawlai to Beamsville took from July 2 to August 18. The furlough year, 1973-1974, was a busy time, visiting supporting churches, teaching and preaching. (Donald wrote about wishing he could visit the Security Church of Christ, Colorado City, where his brother Charles was an elder: “I haven’t seen my brother or his family in fifteen years.”) During the furlough, Donald spoke at Bible lectureships at Western Christian and at Great Lakes Christian, and taught a class on Missions at the Faculty of Bible and Missions at GLCC in Beamsville. The Perrys returned to India in 1974, with three of the daughters remaining in North America to pursue their college education. Donald and Miriam continued their mission three more years. After the Perrys’ return to Canada, Donald returned to teaching at Great Lakes Christian College, teaching a further six years, until 1986. They located on a small farm on Thirty Road near Beamsville.

Miriam passed away, May 9, 1994, of cancer, at age 74.

Donald married Dianne Enderwick, Dean of Girls at Great Lakes Christian College, December 27, 1997. They lived at the Thirty Road farm until 2010 when they moved into Beamsville. During this later period in Donald’s life, he taught courses on World Religion, at Great Lakes Bible College, Waterloo, Ontario, in 1997, and at Western Christian College, in Dauphin, Manitoba, in 1998 and 1999. In 2001, Donald and Dianne led a group of five graduates of Great Lakes Christian College on a short term mission trip to Namwianga, Zambia. Donald served on the boards of both Great Lakes Bible College and Great Lakes Christian College. In later years Donald preached at Port Colborne and Selkirk, and taught at the midweek gathering at the Beamsville congregation.

Donald passed away May 3, 2017, in his 91st year. In the eulogy given at his funeral by his children, they described their father: “He was a farmer, scholar, teacher, scientist, carpenter, mechanic, bread-maker, historian, knitter, beekeeper, and gardener.”

Ralph:

Harold Ralph Perry was born November 3, 1927, the youngest son of the Perry family. He attended public school at Tintern, riding his bike the couple of miles east along Spring Creek Road to school. When finishing grade seven he was encouraged to go directly into high school in Beamsville. This proved to be unfortunate as he struggled through the first two years of high school, describing himself as a high school dropout. Then the opportunity arose for him to finish his high school education at the high school maintained at David Lipscomb College in Nashville, TN. He was motivated by his determination to preach and teach the Gospel. He was assisted in this venture by Gordon McPhee. He was just sixteen in 1944, when he set off by bus to Nashville. He completed the remaining two years of high school, and was the Valedictorian of his graduating class at Lipscomb. Ralph then received a four year academic scholarship for his college studies. He interrupted his education in 1949, preaching for five months with the Meaford Church of Christ. During his last year at Lipscomb, Ralph was chairman of the Mission Study Group where he expressed interest in missions in Nigeria. Ralph graduated in June, 1951, with his B. A. degree, magna cum laude, majoring in Bible and minoring in Speech. He was listed in Whose Who in American Colleges and Universities. Ralph returned to Ontario and preached with the Bayview Church of Christ in Toronto. Meanwhile, he determined to follow up with an opportunity that had developed while in college. His roommate had been from Germany, and had encouraged Ralph to consider mission work in Germany. Ralph traveled to Europe by boat, and pursued this possibility. He found that conditions had changed and were not as he had anticipated. He chose to return to Toronto where he served the Bayview congregation from 1951-1954. During that time he married Joyce Dale of the Strathmore Blvd. congregation, on August 15, 1953.

They had five children, Stephen, Gloria, Mark, Ruth, and Donna.

Strathmore:

In 1954, Ralph went to serve as evangelist with the Strathmore Blvd. church. He worked with this congregation for six years until 1960. It was at Strathmore that Ralph took an interest in developing a strong Sunday school program with Bible class attendance increasing from 75 to 200.

London:

He then moved in 1960 to London, Ontario, to begin the work there. They met at first in the home of Ron Mason. Shig Ono, a convert of Murray Hammond during Murray’s time at a sanitarium in London, joined them. Ralph was supported in this work by the Granny White Church of Christ in Nashville. At first they were located in downtown London. Then their efforts were shifted to a new development in the north-east section of the city, in Huron Heights. There they secured two acres of land, at $2,000 per acre. The first unit of their church building was constructed in 1964, and the second unit added in 1968. They regularly conducted campaigns that focused on young people, and made use of public school facilities which were made available free during the vacation months. Up to 500 students attended. Ray Lock was one of many who assisted. Bible school attendance grew to 200. Ralph served in London for ten years.

During this period, Ralph enrolled in the London College of Bible and Missions, studying church education. Ralph’s experience resulted in invitations to engage in some 25 teacher training workshops. During these years, Ralph served Omagh Bible School, 1951-1970, as teacher, and as a member of the board, acting as chairman of the board for several years. He initiated Family Week at the camp.

Nigeria:

Then, in 1971, with encouragement of Roger Church in Nashville and the support of the Concord Church of Christ, Brentwood, TN, Ralph moved with his family to Nigeria to teach in the Bible Training College (later Nigerian Christian Bible College). The Biafran War, 1967-68, had closed Nigeria to American workers, but was open to those from British Commonwealth countries. As a Canadian, Ralph was able to enter, while his American brethren were not. Ralph was the second Perry brother to access this special benefit (cf. Donald to India, 1962)!

He with his family arrived in Ukpom, Nigeria, April 7, 1971, prepared to teach and was later asked to administer the college. “Being the only missionary of the church of Christ in the Efik Ibibio area of Southeastern Nigeria, he usually preached at two to four churches each Sunday and did extensive evangelism in the villages.” Ralph and his family stayed in Nigeria for two years. Upon their return to Canada, they moved to Brantford where Ralph worked with Tom Blake and the church there during 1973-74.

In the meantime, Eugene had concluded his 22 year service with Great Lakes Christian College, and with Evelyn moved in 1974 to Zambia to lead the school there. Ralph agreed to take over Eugene’s work of publishing the Gospel Herald magazine and managing the book store, and with his family moved into Eugene and Evelyn’s Beamsville home where the Gospel Herald activity was located. He was partially supported by the Beamsville Church of Christ which he also served. After two years, he resigned from the work with the Gospel Herald and served the Beamsville congregation full-time through to 1980. He also served Great Lakes’ School of Bible and Missions, teaching for some three years.

Then Ralph was approached by Jimmie Lovell of World Bible School about returning to Nigeria to do followup work with Nigerian students of the School’s correspondence program. Ralph agreed and with Joyce returned to Nigeria, in June, 1980, staying for three months. (Their three oldest children were in North America in college; their two youngest children stayed in the home of the Geoff and Doreen Ellis). Ralph continued this work for fifteen years, 1980-1995. He traveled to Nigeria some two dozen times, averaging two trips a year for three months at a time. His work ranged throughout the country, facing hardship and danger, teaching converts and strengthening churches. (Ralph did not baptize but encouraged Nigerian evangelists to do the baptizing.) When he began this work, there was just one evangelist in the north of the country. When he concluded his work, in the ten states in the northern Nigeria, the work had grown from 25 small churches to some 400 churches and a Bible college. In the south, where there were now numerous workers, Ralph concentrated on securing Nigerian preachers to do the followup, teaching, and baptizing. He assisted in starting two Bible schools, one in the west and one in the north. Back home in 1995 and after, Ralph served the Grimsby and Port Colborne congregations part time.

Ralph and Joyce currently reside in Deer Park Villa in Grimsby, Ontario. Ralph and Joyce are in their 93rd and 90th years respectively.

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(Thanks are expressed to various members of the Perry family who contributed to this record, with special appreciation to Myrna Perry, the family historian.)

(In preparing this review of the lives and service of the four Perry brothers, I am impressed with the inadequacy of a few pages of reporting to cover four lifetimes of dedication. We take comfort in knowing that their full and accurate accounts are recorded and remembered by the Lord they served and still serve. GHE)

Grimsby, Ontario

September 26, 2020