Laura Perry (CHS 1996) sat inconspicuously in the darkness of Central’s auditorium with her four-year-old daughter in her lap and her step mother, Nancy Roberts, at her side. It was the 2018-2019 Senior Recognition Night, and she watched with weighted reflection as a soon-to-be-graduate of Central High School, her family’s alma mater, received the Duane M. Perry Mathematics Award. Watching the student walk across the stage to receive a scholarship bearing her family’s name was an emotional moment for Laura. The scholarship – established in memory of her Grandfather, Duane Perry, who taught math at Central High School before becoming the Head of Mathematics for Omaha Public Schools – was started by her father, Doug Perry (CHS 1966). Doug deeply respected the legacy of his late father, and considered Central High School his home. His father taught math while he was a student there, and his friends recalled how he always toed the line between being a wild, fun-loving teenager and the son of a teacher at his school. When Doug had his own daughters, Kristen (CHS 1994) and Laura (CHS 1996), he knew they would also be Eagles. He was certain they would continue their legacy even years before they were ready for high school, toting them along to Senior Recognition ceremonies where he himself would hand out the scholarship to bright-eyed students. Laura was around three-years-old during that time, and remembered her father’s enthusiasm for the school, the scholarship, the memory of his father, and the opportunity to help other Eagles soar…
Doug unexpectedly passed away October 20, 2018. This was the first Senior Recognition ceremony in which he would not be there to see a Central High School senior benefit from the scholarship he started.
“Ever since I was little Central has been a part of our life,” said Laura. “My dad had a lot of pride in that school, and was very involved.” He was in concert band, played football, was a member of the Junior Honors Society, the Junior Classical League, and the Math Club. He was also a member of the O-Club, participated in the Road Show, and was on the swim team.
Despite the busy high school schedule, Doug had a close group of five friends who remained like brothers until his death. Dennis Tibbetts (CHS 1965) recalled a long childhood playing with Doug in the streets, running out of the house after breakfast only to return right before dinner. “Doug’s leadership emerged early,” said Dennis. “He schemed constantly: the next party, an elaborate but good-natured practical joke, or even coordinated outfits for an Eagle cheering squad that he commissioned. I knew when the phone rang at 5 o’clock, I’d answer it to hear Doug’s voice saying, ‘Okay, I’ll pick you up at 6:45 and Rusty at 7. Then…’ He planned my life.”
Dennis, Rusty Crossman (CHS 1966), Jim Wigton (CHS 1966), and the rest of the boys spent high school chasing thrills. “During the summer of 1963, we hit the amusement jackpot,” recalled Dennis. “Masonic Manor, now Elmwood Towers, was under construction. At that point it was just a 23-story steel skeleton with the central staircase complete, but no perimeter fence to keep us trespassers out. Doug and I led at least three groups to the summit that summer … and we all survived to graduate from Central! To this day, I have not experienced a vista as intoxicating as that: 23 floors up on a summer night… friends… Omaha lights twinkling in all directions.”
Central High School built the foundation Doug needed for a lifetime of success, said Jim Wigton, who recalled that his friend’s athletic and academic prowess earned him an appointment at the Naval Academy and a spot at Stanford. Doug chose to attend Stanford and earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. He remained at Stanford and later earned his master’s degree in structural engineering and specialized in earthquakes.
After returning to Omaha, he joined Northwestern Bell and filled various engineering management positions as he started his family with his first wife, whom he met at Stanford. While at Northwestern Bell, he joined the Jaycees, and later became the President of the Omaha Chapter. The Jaycees were very active in working for the successful implementation of bussing in Omaha, and also promoted women’s rights. Always concerned with social justice, Doug also facilitated racial literacy training at Northwestern Bell.
He was known for his community service: he was an active member of the Chamber of Commerce, was on the boards of the Omaha Community Playhouse, NPTV, Leadership Omaha, Landmarks, CHS PTA, and the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education. And more importantly, he coached his daughter’s softball teams.
Eventually Doug ventured out on his own to start a business. With his partners he began Abacus, a small company which successfully marketed Apple microcomputers. But after Apple decided on a different national marketing strategy, Abacus lost its product and Doug then moved to the Valcom division of Valmont. After his career at Valmont he moved to Inacom, where he was Vice President of Marketing and later joined the AIM Institute in Omaha, where he became involved with IT workforce training. From Omaha, Doug moved to Carlsbad, CA with his second wife, Nancy Roberts, and joined two internet start-ups: Encanto and Kinzan. This cemented his ties to Southern California, where he and Nancy purchased a home.
With one more move back to Omaha for a medical software firm, Doug then finished his career at the energy company Tenaska, where he was an asset manager. While there, he mentored students for “Teammates,” a program started by Tom Osborn, which Tenaska supported. He retired in 2017.
“Doug’s dedication to his family, friends and community, his adventurousness and varied business career, and his many other pursuits were truly impressive,” said Jim Wigton. “I’ve admired them.”
“Doug ultimately saw himself as an entrepreneur, and sought to add value to any community he was a part of,” said his wife, Nancy. “He was always working in the tech world, often on management teams, and loved to be challenged by new processes and technologies involved in building a business.”
As much as he valued his professional career, he valued being a father more. His daughter, Kristen, described him as a caring and dedicated Dad, who valued the individual strengths and personalities of his children and grandchildren.
“My dad was an engineer and my grandfather was a mathematics teacher, but I hated math,” she Kristen, who loved to read and was the Editor-in-Chief of The Register. “I felt a lot of pressure to be good at math, especially going to a school where there was a mathematics scholarship with my family’s name on it. It was something that a few of my math teachers even reminded me of. But my dad never pushed me. I remember him telling me my senior year of high school, ‘I don’t expect you to try to get the Perry scholarship, but I do think you could win the English one…’ And I did!”
Kristen said her father always gave her the support she needed to grow into her own person, and throughout her life he gifted her with stacks of books for Christmas and her birthday. He even continued sending her boxes full of books when she was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho.
Nancy said that Doug had no plans to relax in retirement. He maintained an active spirit and wanted to continue giving back to the community. He enjoyed sailing, running, swimming, fly fishing, and Tai Chi. He even studied to become a sailing instructor, which was a new vocation that suited him; “his students loved him,” said Nancy.
On October 20th of last year, Doug went on a run along the beach near their house in Southern California. “He found great peace and enjoyment running along the beach,” said Nancy. It was during this run that he unexpectedly experienced a fatal heart attack.
Through the hardship of their father’s passing, Kristen and Laura made sure that the Perry Legacy didn’t end with his passing. The scholarship was renamed to the Duane M. and Douglas J. Perry Mathematics Award, and, for their father’s funeral, they requested that donations be made to the scholarship fund in lieu of flowers.
“My grandfather came from humble origins: he survived the Depression in rural Nebraska, he served in World War II and managed to really make a contribution to Central High School and Omaha Public Schools. My father was raised by a school teacher and a secretary, but was able to graduate from Stanford and build a successful career,” said Kristen.
“I hope current Central students and recent graduates will take this from our family’s story: Central is a place which builds excellence. It opens doors of opportunity and gives you the confidence to become something extraordinary despite where you may have started.”
“My grandfather and my father both believed in the foundation OPS provided. We always found that the teachers were very dedicated. They pushed you, they believed in you, and you felt like you could go on to do anything,” said Laura. “I think of Central as a home because it was just such a good experience. I want the high school — even with all the growth and development — to continue to be a home, a safe space, and a good learning environment. I want it to continue to be a place that pushes people and teaches through experience.”
This Central legacy was on Laura’s mind as she sat in the auditorium of Central that evening, watching another recipient of her father’s scholarship head off into their future the same way that she, her father, and her sister did when they graduated from Central. Through this scholarship, the Perry family — and by extension, the Perry legacy — consists of much more than just the members of their family. It includes each student who has used their support to further their education, lift up their peers, and give back to their communities.