Jerry LaVerne Perney, 93, of Paso Robles, passed away at home, surrounded by love and music, to a better place on January 8, 2023. He was born June 25, 1929, in Fort Madison, Iowa, to William and Verdia (Miller) Perney, the youngest of their three sons. His early years were spent in Fort Madison on a small farm where he enjoyed the freedom of the woods behind his home for hunting and fishing. He also began piano lessons formally with a regular teacher and informally learned all about blues, jazz, and proper rag-time chords in a bar late at night. When he was 12 and his brothers were serving overseas in World War II, his father died suddenly, and he and his mother moved to be with family in Ottawa, Kansas.
While attending Ottawa High School, he played tuba in the band and had his half-hour musical radio show broadcast playing popular, dixie, and jazz piano tunes. After high school, he attended Bethany College, majoring in piano and voice. While there, he played tuba in the jazz band, “The Blue Dozen,” which traveled all over Kansas to play for dances, often arriving back at school in the wee small hours of the morning, but not stopping him from playing the organ for the early church service. In his senior year, he transferred to Ottawa University and began teaching music in Quenemo and Richardson, Kansas.
He joined the Army in 1951, where he became a cryptographer. He was very proud of his “top secret” clearance and the opportunity to serve. After being stationed at several bases from Texas to Georgia, and finally, to California, he ended up at Camp Roberts near Paso Robles, where he met his first wife, Alice Joelle Brown. They moved back to Lyndon, Kansas, where he welcomed his two sons, Steven LaVerne and Garrett William. He taught music there for six years. In one of his favorite times, he had the band all lined up and ready to step off in the Fourth of July parade when a ‘friend’ in the crowd threw a fistful of dimes right into the band. You can imagine the chaos that ensued. The family moved back to Paso Robles in 1960, and they welcomed his daughter Alice Julie. He earned his Masters’s Degree in music education from the University of Colorado, Boulder. After his marriage ended, he fell in love with and married Gay Valery Denbrook in 1971. They welcomed two more daughters, Nanette Marie, and Joanna Lorraine. They celebrated 51 years of marriage in December.
Jerry taught music for 42 years at Paso Robles Schools, teaching band, choir, and classroom music. He was named Paso Robles Teacher of the Year in 1973. For many years he enjoyed playing piano for Vine Street Showcase, Pioneer Day with the Big Band, and many other events, businesses, and parties, often with his quartet “The Rainmakers.” He also played organ and piano for the Methodist Church in Paso Robles and Shandon until 2017.
In addition to his music Jerry also loved fishing, farming, and travel. He was always “fixing” things, and we called some of them “Jerry Rigged” for his innovative ideas (inside joke)! He liked working in his shop, where he constructed furniture, shelves, and honey-dos. He refurbished anything that needed fixing, from cars to wood stoves to plastering and painting walls, anything for the family. When it came to farming, he loved driving the tractor to plant and harvest barley. He tenderly cared for cows, chickens, and sheep. Proud of his harvested fruits, nuts and vegetables, guests were always offered a bag to go. His favorite travels were to Colorado and Kansas to visit his brothers, their families, and other relatives. Other travels took him all over the western United States to visit friends and many historical and natural sites, with special trips to Alaska, Hawaii, England, and Scotland.
His many other jobs starting at age 15, included putting patches on gas pipelines one hot summer in Kansas, furniture mover, grocery store, and almost any extra job he could find. For several years he was a member of the Pioneer Day Committee, inviting and hosting bands from King City to Arroyo Grande. He worked in the Band Boosters Snack Shack at the fair for many summers, mopping the floors at 5 AM, serving hungry 4H and FFA kids, and coming back late at night to close up. He was a member of the Paso Robles Foundation for Music and the Arts, which began the yearly Paderewski Festival, the Paso Robles Historical Society, and the Pioneer Museum. After retiring from teaching public school music, he and his wife were named Roblans of the Month for July 2002. Jerry continued to give private piano lessons for another 12 years.
He was preceded in death by his parents, brothers, son Steven and daughter Julie, and three nephews. He is survived by his wife, Gay, son Garrett, daughters Nanette (Clay) and Joanna (Chris), six grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, five nieces, and two nephews. A private service for the family was held at the Paso Robles Cemetery. Memorial donations may be made in his honor to the Paso Robles Schools music department.