Kansas was not on Tony Perez’s top 10 list of places to retire, let alone Pittsburg. But after moving to Southeast Kansas in 1988 to begin a job at the Kansas Army Ammunition Plant in Parsons, he chose Pittsburg as his home and he’s never regretted it.
“Pittsburg State was one of the reasons I moved here," he said. “Universities offer a lot of culture and amenities that towns without them don’t offer, and that was certainly true of Pittsburg. It’s the type of community I wanted to live in. I’ve never left.”
This week, Perez was recognized as one of two winners for the 2020 Dr. Ralf J. Thomas Distinguished Service Award during a luncheon at The Crossland University House, a public reception in his honor at the Wilkinson Alumni Center, and at the Apple Day Ceremony in the Overman Student Center.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., he grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia and graduated from St. Joseph’s University there. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1966 and served 22 years during the Vietnam era, including two tours in Thailand, before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.
As a civilian, Perez worked for 19 years as the safety manager at the Kansas Army Ammunition Plant. He and his wife, Jing, raised three children in Pittsburg; two went on to attend the Air Force Academy and one attended the University of Kansas.
It didn’t take him long to find his calling as a volunteer.
“My last duty station was an Army base with a local NPR station and I really enjoyed it,” he said. “When I got here, KRPS had just come online, and, John Howard, the station manager, was asking for volunteers. The next thing I knew I was on air.”
He's volunteered there ever since, serving as the local host of Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday for 23 years, and since 2013 as the local host of Performance Today.
“He provided Four State listeners with local weather, public service announcements with a friendly, authoritative voice,” said KRPS General Manager Tim Metcalf. “Throughout his time at KRPS, he has been a staunch supporter of public radio, of Pittsburg State University, and the local community. He is always willing to do what is asked of him, including on-air fundraising. Tony is truly an asset to KRPS.”
Perez also has served on the board of directors for the Pittsburg Family YMCA, and he and his wife travel to Thailand each year to visit her family.
“But this is home,” Perez said of Pittsburg, where these days he enjoys doing DIY projects and tending to his garden. “I like it here.”
About the award
The PSU Alumni Association established the Distinguished Service Award in 1991 and presented the first award later that year. In July 2000, it was re-named the Dr. Ralf J. Thomas Distinguished Service Award in memory of a retired faculty member who volunteered his service to the PSU Alumni Association for 22 years and was the first recipient of the award in 1991.
“The recipients of this award are those who have been selfless at giving their time and their talent for the betterment of the university,” Bartlow said. “Tony Perez is the epitome of what the committee looks for in this award; he’s an inspiration to others to put down roots in this community and serve others as a volunteer.”