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January 23, 2013

Perna Chosen Grand Marshal



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Kitty Merrill. (click for larger version)
"I've always said it's Montauk's highest honor," Jack Perna, superintendent of Montauk Public School said Friday after learning he'd been chosen to serve as Grand Marshal of this year's Friends of Erin St. Patrick's Day parade. "I'm humbled."

Perna didn't know he was in the running for the honor until he received a call from Patrick Maloney last Thursday night. "He works here and when I saw the number I thought, 'Which part of the roof fell off now?'" (The Montauk School sustained damage during Hurricane Sandy.)

"Jack's a great guy," Joe Bloecker of the Friends of Erin said this week. "We at the Friends of Erin put our energy into the youth of the community and Jack Perna has put his energy into the youth of our community for 30 years. How many school administrators start and end their careers in one district? It's obvious he cares about the children of our community and we appreciate it and that's why we're celebrating Jack Perna."

Perna started working in the district in 1973. He was appointed superintendent in 1995.

His family roots in the Lighthouse District trace back to the 1950s, when they began summering in the hamlet. They moved here full time soon after. His grandfather opened Pizza Village, and owned what was then called the Lakeside Inn (It's now the Surf Lodge).

Perna eventually took ownership of Pizza Village, buying it from an aunt and uncle. He ran it for about 20 years before selling it to the current owner, a former employee, about a decade ago. The family connection to the popular eatery is intact, he said. "I still go there every Friday for a slice of pizza."

Over the years Perna's served with a variety of community organizations: He was the director of the chamber of commerce, and involved in Montauk Youth, the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee, the East Hampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force, and was chosen to "Light the light" by the Montauk Historical Society at its annual holiday kick off last November. But mostly, said Perna, as he sat at a big wooden desk covered with mementos from colleagues, friends, and students in his office in the school, "I've been here."

A plaque on Perna's desk reads, "An original is hard to find, but easy to recognize." Marching this March will comprise a full circle of sorts for the 62 year old, who participated in the original FOE effort. "I marched in the very first Friends of Erin parade 51 years ago. When I was a sixth grader at Little Flower School, our whole school marched. It was a couple of Friends of Erin, the Catholic School, and a fire truck."

Celebrating over a half century, the annual Friends of Erin parade is one of the largest St. Patrick's parades in the state. The event is the culmination of a weekend devoted to celebration, with a Grand Marshal luncheon held from noon to 3 PM on Friday, March 15, at Gurney's Inn and a Friends of Erin cocktail party on Saturday, also at Gurney's, from 4 to 8 PM. This year the parade steps off on March 17 at 11:30 AM.

kmerrill@indyeastend.com

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