Let’s Talk Clovis: Elvey Perkins, 36 years of city service

Elvey Perkins, Jr. (photo courtesy of Clovis Museum)

Elvey Perkins retired after 36 years of dedicated service to the City of Clovis on Oct. 29, 1993. The City recognized his leadership and declared Elvey Perkins week in 1977 and 1987. He was inducted into the Clovis Hall of Fame in 1993.

On May 28, 1957, he was the first African American to be hired by the City of Clovis. He was trained without pay for two weeks by Louis Milanesi, the supervisor of the sewage treatment plant south of Yosemite Air Terminal, east of Peach and north of McKinley Avenue.

Louis was born in Clovis in 1903. He shared vital historic information with Elvey. Elvey is one of the most informed historians of Clovis.

History shared included: The 1913 60,000 gallon water tower that is still operational was erected by horses connected to a rope on 5th Street that lifted the steel structure to its 100 foot position.

Clovis has been using water meters since 1912, 100 years ahead of Fresno. Before Clovis Avenue had asphalt pavement in 1919, watering down the dirt road was required and a water tanker was used. The Parks Department was still using the same tank when Elvey retired in 1993.

The Clovis Police Department was alerted by a Bakersfield officer that the attractive plant at their door was marijuana.

Dry Creek provided sand for construction of homes.

Louis Milanesi retired in 1967 and Elvey was appointed Field Services Superintendent.

At times Elvey would pour concrete (expertise from his prior concrete business with Jesse Turner) for the city during the day and operate the plant at night.

Elvey was born an only child of Elvey Sr. and Lonnie Perkins in Trinity, Tx. His father worked in a saw mill making 11 cents per hour prior to joining the Army during World War II. His parents divorced when Elvey was 4 years old and he was raised by his paternal grandmother.

His mother Lonnie married Jack Eaton and the couple arrived in Clovis in 1945. They leased an auto repair shop at 5th & Tollhouse from Augie Roberts and started Jack’s Garage. They were the first African Americans to own and operate a commercial business. The couple built a home at 1655 4th St.

Elvey was reunited with his mother in 1947 and entered Clovis High School that year. He was the only freshman on the varsity football team. He excelled in football, track, boxing and band. He and his good friend, Wilbur Dunn, would be the first African Americans to graduate from Clovis High School in 1950.

After graduation he enrolled as music major and also lettered in football at Reedley College. He was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He was honorably discharged due to an old football ankle injury.

Elvey married Geraldine (Gerrie) Bryant in 1951. Their sons, Lonnell, Kim and Andre all excelled in sports and their professions. Lonnell and Andre remain in the Clovis area.

Gerrie and Elvey were tireless, talented civic and church leaders at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. Elvey remembers when Gerrie volunteered their garage for Salvation Army storage space. He stated: “It didn’t matter that I had to park my car outside. Nobody was stealing at that time anyway. The door to our house was never locked, even when we were out of town.”

Gerrie died in 1982 at age 48. The Clovis Police Department, in full dress uniforms and police vehicles, escorted her funeral procession.

President Ronald Reagan appointed Elvey as Public Works Ambassador to Vietnam to facilitate improvement of their infrastructure. Elvey also received commendation from the California State Department of Water Resources for supervising one of the most effective waste water treatment plants in the state.

Elvey married Lois Harris in 1987. Her children Kristi and John Harris joined his family. Lois’ teaching career began with the Fresno Unified School District. She served as principal of three schools and as assistant superintendent.

Elvey remains a loyal and active leader in Clovis. He is a board member of the Clovis Museum. He and his family continue to enrich our Clovis heritage.

Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.