September 7, 2006 – Vol. 42, No. 4
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Master craftsman built more than just houses

Serghino René

W. Wentworth Perkins enjoyed his work until he could do no more. As a master craftsman and cabinetmaker for nearly five decades, he provided numerous customers with the joys of enhancing their residences and businesses.

On Sunday, Aug. 27, Perkins passed on at the Pleasant Bay Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Brewster. He was 95 years old.

Born in Tupelo, Miss. on Dec. 6, 1910, Perkins began his construction career working with his grandfather and father.

Before arriving in Boston, he attended Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tenn. on an athletic scholarship, playing football and basketball. He then moved to Springfield, Mass., where he built housing for World War II soldiers.

While working as an independent contractor, he took great pride in the projects that took place in his home community of Roxbury.

He was a member of the consortium of black contractors whom the AVCO Printing Company assembled to build a printing plant on Geneva Ave.

He rehabilitated a dwelling on Humboldt Avenue as a pilothouse to help the people residing in the Washington Park Urban Renewal Area see possibilities for improving their homes with government funds available through Freedom House, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable development of Boston’s communities of color.

He converted a bowling alley at 464 Blue Hill Avenue into a data processing center to prepare young men and women in the Roxbury/Dorchester area for positions at the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. This project created a lasting friendship with Jim Brannon, the Liberty Mutual employee who headed that center.

He was an early member of the Contractors Association of Boston, where he served as a liaison between Boston’s minority contractors and the Model Cities Program, headed by Paul Parks.

He became the resident engineer during the construction of the Roxbury Community Health Center located on Warren Street.

He finished his formal career as a construction engineer for the Boston Housing Authority.

In addition to his construction business, he was an active fraternity member of Omega Psi Phi. During the 1940s and ’50s he was responsible for helping many young African American men attending college in the Boston area get acquainted with each other through basketball and softball activities. Many of these men confirmed that they would not have made it through Boston without Perkins’s involvement.

As an avid photographer, his movies and photos served as a historical archive for a variety of social activities that took place in the black community.

“Mr. Perkins contributed a lot in his own quiet and bullish way,” said Jean McHallam, a longtime friend. During his lifetime, he met and helped many. He will be remembered as a man for whom work was his true joy.

After doing so much for others, in 1984 he built his own home in North Eastham, Mass. on Cape Cod, and lived there ever since.

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Frances; his son Joseph Wentworth Perkins, daughter-in-law Margaret and granddaughter Catherine, all of Eastham; a grandson, Christian, and great-grandson, Justin, both of Yonkers, N.Y.; his brother Nelson, of Chicago, Ill. and his sister, Armentris, of St. Louis, Mo.

Plans are underway to schedule a memorial service during the month of October.

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