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Thomas C. Perry, 76, led expansion of Perry's Ice Cream

April 6, 1941 – June 4, 2017

Thomas C. Perry was born into the ice cream business.

His father, Marlo Perry, and grandfather, H. Morton Perry, who owned a dairy farm and milk delivery business in Akron, started making ice cream from a family recipe with a hand-cranked freezer for the Akron High School cafeteria in 1932.

It proved so popular that by 1940 they were able to buy a Buffalo ice cream maker and expand distribution into the city.

Born in Batavia, Mr. Perry worked in the ice cream plant as a teen, then earned a degree in food science with a focus on dairy business from Michigan State University. He joined Perry’s full-time in 1963, when it was still a relatively small producer.

“I remember saying to Dad,” he recalled in an interview with Business First of Buffalo, “ ‘We’re going to be a million-dollar business,’ and he said, ‘Don’t worry about that too soon.’ ”

Mr. Perry died Sunday after a lengthy illness. He was 76.

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He was operations manager in 1971 when the company bought the land for its current production facility in Akron and began expanding as the ice cream market boomed in the 1970s.

He conceived much of the design for a new ice cream plant, which tripled production capacity, as well as a new corporate headquarters, which opened in 1982, the year he succeeded his father as president and chief executive officer. He became chairman of the board following his father’s death in 1988.

Mr. Perry oversaw corporate restructuring to accommodate its growing business and computerized operations in the early 1990s. He stepped aside as president in 1994 and retired as CEO in 2000, but continued as chairman and as a consultant. At the time of his death, he was chairman emeritus.

He also paved the way for a fourth generation to lead the company. His son-in-law, Robert Denning, is president and CEO; his son, Brian, is executive vice president and chairman; and his daughter, Gayle Perry Denning, is director of sustainability.

He served as treasurer of the International Ice Cream Association from 1989 to 1991 and received its Soaring Eagle Award in 1999.

He also followed his father, a former Akron village trustee and mayor, in community affairs. He served on the Village Board from 1975 to 1987 and was mayor from 1987 to 1991. He was honored as Akron’s Citizen of the year in 2002.

He was a member of the board of directors of the Bank of Akron and Ford Gum and Machine Co. He was treasurer of the Akron Masonic Lodge and a former officer of the Akron Lions Club. He was active in the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts in Akron.

He also was a member of the Newstead Historical Society and the Akron First United Methodist Church.

He received an honorary doctorate from SUNY Buffalo State in 2005. He also was honored with the Abraham Lincoln Leadership Award in 2004 and the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2003. He was a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 1999.

He and his wife of 55 years, the former Marilyn Peterson, maintained a winter home in Sarasota, Fla.

Survivors also include another daughter, Marcia Rodriguez; a brother, Allyn; a sister, Linda Capan; and eight grandchildren.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Akron First United Methodist Church, 7 Church St., Akron.

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