Janie Perkins teared up as she talked about giving back to the Garden City community that “opened its arms to her.”

Janie Perkins teared up as she talked about giving back to the Garden City community that “opened its arms to her.”
It was a long journey for Perkins, who became mayor of Garden City, an elementary school teacher and a member of the Kansas Board of Regents. After all, Juana “Janie” Perkins’s family moved to the city from Mexico in the 1970s without the ability to speak any English.
The situation was so dire, Perkins said, that she was placed in second grade, despite her age at 10 years old.
Perkins told her success story Friday to about 60 Pittsburg State University faculty, staff and students as part of the university’s Tilford Lecture Series on diversity. Perkins spoke about her experiences growing up as a second-language learner and her efforts to promote diversity.
The change from Mexico to Garden City was a major one — Perkins was coming from a place that had no electricity, no plumbing, no health clinics, and perhaps most importantly, no schools. Perkins compared her first days in school to being in a palace.
“I didn’t have any dreams coming from where I did,” Perkins said. “I had a happy childhood, but not any true dreams.”
Perkins said one of her memories was listening to one of the nuns at the parochial school she attended — her second grade teacher — read to the class. Though Perkins couldn’t understand her teacher’s stories, she said she noticed her teacher’s facial expressions and could tell that it was a good story.
“When I learned to read English, I went back and read every book that I could remember her reading,” Perkins said.
Her English also came in handy with her family members. Perkins said she became her parents’ interpreter.
“I became their voice,” Perkins said.
And she began dreaming. She met her husband, and through an 11-year series of rotating school and work, Perkins earned both a bachelor of science and a master’s degree in education from Newman University, while her husband became a family physician. The couple juggled work and school while raising their oldest child.
But then things slowed down. Perkins said her children were out of diapers when she began looking for ways to give back to the community, something she said was ingrained through her family’s beliefs. So she ran for Garden City City Council, and was elected to a two-year term. The next go-round, she was elected first of the candidates and became the city’s first Hispanic female mayor.
Things wouldn’t stop there. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius appointed Perkins to the Board of Regents in 2005.
Perkins spoke about the need to communicate through diversity and gain an understanding of the other party’s needs. She also implored Pitt State students to never give up.
“Keep the dream alive, and stay strong,” Perkins said. “You’re going to have your valleys. I’ve been there, and I know how it feels. When people tell you that you can’t do it, that it won’t work, it means they don’t believe in themselves.
“We all have dreams, and I haven’t stopped dreaming,” Perkins said. “As long as God gives me time in this life, I want to continue with that.”

Kevin Flaherty can be reached at kevin.flaherty@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 Ext. 134