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Carl Perry, state representative-elect for District 3. Elisa Sand / Aberdeen American News

An ambassador for Aberdeen, Carl Perry will take his passion to South Dakota Capitol

ABERDEEN, S.D. - Carl Perry doesn't have to look too far for something to do in Aberdeen.

His theory is simple.

"If you don’t want to do anything, it doesn’t matter where you live ... you can have nothing to do. If you want to have something to do, this town offers a lot to do," he said.

Perry is one of Aberdeen's newest state lawmakers, having been elected to the House earlier this month. Now 65 and retired, he said he ran for the Legislature to give back. One look at the list of organizations he's been involved with reveals a man who's consistently given back to the community for decades.

"The more you’re involved, the more you want to give back," he said.

Perry said all people have something that keeps them going, listing hunting and fishing as examples for some people.

"I just like to be involved in the community," he said. "I really believe we need to give back to the community."

Brown County Republican Chairwoman Char Cornelius said Perry was a natural pick as a legislative candidate.

"There's nobody else in town who could have that kind of name recognition and reputation (for loving Aberdeen). He's the biggest ambassador and cheerleader," she said.

Perry and his wife Sheryl raised their sons Travas and Jason, who are adults living in California and Texas, respectively, in Aberdeen.

Community involvement

Carl Perry has called Aberdeen home since he moved to town for college in 1971. His immersion in community organizations dates back to 1979. That's when he joined the Aberdeen Jaycees, a leadership organization for young people. It's a group that's no longer active locally, but his involvement earned him the C. William Brownfield Memorial Award in 1979-80. It's an honor given to five Jaycees in the country who are recognized for their involvement in the organization, as well as their recruitment and activation of other members.

Perry's involvement in town is far reaching and has included several committees for the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber President Gail Ochs said Perry constantly promotes events happening around the city.

"He's always been an ambassador for the chamber and the community," Ochs said. "This next step was logical for him. It allows him to expand his knowledge and bring it to Pierre."

Perry was the 2002 George Award recipient.

"It goes to someone who doesn't just 'let George do it,'" Ochs said of the honor. "They step up and take the initiative and do it."

Not native to Aberdeen

Born in Kansas City, Mo., Perry and his mother moved to 10 miles southwest of Selby when she remarried. He was 10 at the time and attended a nearby country school. He jokes he was tops in his class. He was also the only one in his class. He then attended Selby High School, where he got involved in music, track and wrestling.

The one sport he wasn't allowed to join was football. There was too much farm work to do during the fall, he said.

As high school graduation neared in 1971, Perry said he started looking at colleges. South Dakota State University and Dakota State University came to mind first. But his stepdad gave him an incentive to stay closer to home. He offered to cover Perry's first two semesters if he went to Northern State University.

Off to Wolves territory it was. He was enrolled for the next two years, but didn't earn a degree.

Those who watch basketball in Aberdeen have likely noticed Perry is a consistent attendee at both high school and college games, rarely missing a home matchup.

As he looks ahead to the legislative session, Perry knows it will mean missing some games in Aberdeen. That might mean he'll grow to be a fan of the Pierre Governors, he said.

Being a legislator

Perry is learning to plan ahead as his calendar quickly fills with multiple appointments a week from special interest groups and people in the community.

He and Drew Dennert were elected as District 3's state representatives, serving predominantly Aberdeen. But there's plenty to do before the legislative session begins Jan. 9.

Perry has already met with a variety of people — from hospital officials who wanted to discuss health care issues, to community members asking for state support of the solar industry or a northern route across South Dakota to the Black Hills.

Perry said his goal is to listen and learn as much as he can before he makes any decisions.

There isn't a week he doesn't have a meeting or three to attend, and that's only the start. His schedule includes leading a weekly prayer group and counseling members of his church community as one of 28 Steven ministers for New Life Fellowship. This group offers guidance to members of the congregation who are struggling.

Perry meets with fellow District 3 legislators Dennert and Sen. Al Novstrup weekly to compare schedules. Also included in their meetings is District 2 Rep. Kaleb Weis, a fellow Republican.

Perry recalls campaigning with Novstrup and visiting with members of the community who knew either him or Novstrup.

Novstrup agrees he and Perry are well-known and said Perry's connections extend across the state.

"His No. 1 asset is his friendliness," Novstrup said.

Perry and his wife have lived in Aberdeen most of the 44 years they've been married. For six years his career took him to Omaha, Neb.; Mesa, Ariz.; Madison, Wis.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Moorhead, Minn. That time traveling was while working for some big-name companies like Pitney Bowes, Phillip Morris and Wells Fargo, he said.