Apr. 4—Other than his wife, Nanci, nobody likely knows “Lawrence” Bill Perocchi much better than Steve Kelley.
Kelley was a program director of the Lawrence Boy’s Club more than five decades ago when Perocchi would come nearly every day as a child.
“A few things about Bill, back then,” Kelley recalled. “He loved sports. He’d play everything here. He played in our flag football league. He played basketball all of the time. He was passionate, very competitive. I remember him being around a lot.”
In terms of academics and Perocchi’s friends, he wasn’t as complimentary.
“He was a good kid, always smiling,” Kelley said. “He worked hard when it came to sports. But he didn’t work hard in school and we always got on him about that. Even worse, he hung around with a bunch of bananas. They weren’t good influences on him.”
Like a lot of club boys, Perocchi went on his way and Kelley and his crew continued to work on behalf of Lawrence boys — and later girls.
About 25 years flew by and Kelley saw a man in the lobby of the club on Water Street.
“I see him and he’s got this big smile. I’m saying to myself, ‘I know this guy. Who is he?’ And I realize it’s Bill,” he said.
“He looked great and we started chatting,” he continued. “I asked him what he was doing now. He told me about selling the hotel business in Arizona.”
Perocchi said he’d bought a golf course. Kelley asked him where. “He said ‘California, with a couple of other friends.’ “
Then Perocchi told him the course’s name.
“I was like, ‘What? Pebble Beach? Get out of here,'” Kelley said.
From that day forward, Perocchi’s connection to Kelley and the now Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence has remained strong.
Perocchi wanted to help the club, financially, end eventually led an effort to entirely rebuild a new club, donating $1 million.
Kelley often uses Perocchi’s name as an example of how work ethic, passion, integrity and, yes, education, can overcome anything.
“I tell the Bill Perocchi story to big groups of kids about 10 times a year,” he said. “Sometimes kids look at you and say nobody from Lawrence can do something like that. And I say, ‘Wrong, Bill Perocchi did.’ And you can see the gleam in the kids’ eyes — like, ‘Wow, there is a chance.'”
Perocchi’s generosity wasn’t only via a check. He and his family would return to the area, staying in their Seabrook, New Hampshire, home, and invite a bunch of people connected to the club, including more than a dozen boys and girls, to play in their annual July 4 softball game before a lobster bake.
“Bill loved the softball game because he wanted to see them in action, playing and interacting,” Kelley said. “Then we’d all go back to the house, with what seemed like a hundred people, and it was the best day of the summer. Bill and Nanci serving everybody, as if they were paid staff.”
Nanci, Kelley said, deserves her own place on the pedestal when it comes to her husband’s involvement with the club, and really all charities over the last two-plus decades.
She ended up volunteering at a nearby Boys Club in Salinas, California, also playing key roles in that club’s re-growth while copying a few educational programs from Lawrence.
“Bill’s story is truly the Horatio Alger story,” said Kelley, referring to the mythical figure of a poor boy who through hard work, honesty, charity and altruism becomes a success of epic proportions.
“He did everything the right way. He got on the right path, thanks to help from his extended family, going to Brooks School, excelling there, working hard in college and then in business,” he said.
“He had that in him — that nobody was going to outwork him,” Kelley added. “And look what it did for him. It gave him a great family, a great life, and an incredible vision of the world and helping others. A Lawrence kid, from the Stadium projects, who made something of himself that we can all be proud of. If that’s not the Horatio Alger story, I don’t know what is.”
You can email Bill Burt at [email protected]
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