Holidays bring Phil Perry good memories of helping others

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It was Christmastime in Kansas City.

Phil Perry’s dad was a Boy Scouts leader who took Phil along to help give out food and toys to other families. Some of the families lived in homes with no indoor plumbing and dirt floors.

Phil Perry remembers that the children’s eyes lit up with excitement at each home they visited.

The Perry family didn’t have much to give but giving what they could was important to them. This experience had a profound effect on the trajectory of Phil Perry’s life.

VIDEO: Phil Perry shares why giving back remains meaningful to him

While at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Perry studied art and worked as an assistant at the Sheldon Museum of Art under Norman Geske, the first director of the museum. Perry’s knowledge and interest in the arts deepened, but he ultimately found it difficult to turn his studies into a career after college.

That was when Perry decided to step into the business world where he found success. He is now CEO of Perry-Reid Properties, a multifamily development and management entity he incorporated in 2000. PRP is actively involved with 70 apartment complexes in 10 states.

“I read someplace recently that life is art and art is life, and I’m beginning to believe that more and more every day ― that everything you do is a work of art,” Perry said.

While progressing in his business career, Perry continued working on his art — drawing, painting and making pottery.

He also began supporting the arts more intentionally.

He began with support for the Sheldon Museum of Art and then created a permanent endowment for the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts where he has been working to provide more student scholarships and graduate assistantships.

More recently, Perry partnered with the College of Journalism and Mass Communications to create a one-of-a-kind learning opportunity, a two-day event called the Phillip Perry Photo Challenge where students competed for the chance to win a $10,000 scholarship.

“I really like the concept of a challenge because people ask, ‘How do you succeed in life? How is it that you started with nothing and now you have something?’ And the concept of hard work is in there,” Perry said. ‘If you are not willing to work hard, if you are not willing to pay your dues with long hours and the willingness to make change happen, then the path in making your way upward in life becomes exponentially more difficult.”

The first Perry Photo Challenge was held last school year, giving each of the 20 participants only hours to use their cameras to compose a photo essay with 12 images. The essays were judged by five professional photojournalists. Five students were announced as finalists.

Sabrina Sommer, a UNL graphic design and advertising and public relations major from Houston, Texas, won the competition with her photo essay titled “Identity.” Her grand prize: the $10,000 scholarship worth 30 credit hours of in-state tuition and fees for the next academic year.

Because of the current coronavirus pandemic, plans for the next Perry Photo Challenge have not yet been set. Perry said he would like to see it continue, because he finds it rewarding to provide students with a token of encouragement in their lives.

“At the university level, I give back because of the education I received and the opportunities I was given as a student,” Perry said. “I feel a deep gratitude toward the university, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.”

When asked what the most rewarding part of his life has been, Perry explained that there have been high points, and a common thread has been a desire to find ways to provide help to others. Perry encourages students to go out and achieve their goals because no one else is going to do it for them.

“You can always come up with reasons why you don’t do something, but it’s hard to come up with reasons why you stick with it,” Perry said. “The primary reason is right inside of you. It’s what you have inside; it’s not the outside influences.”

This article and the accompanying video were created by College of Journalism and Mass Communications alumna Jessica Moore. She aspires to do much more storytelling and currently resides in Dallas, Texas.

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