A reunion 80 years in the making

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On the occasion of his 80th reunion, 101-year-old Sherret S. Chase ’39 B.S. drove with his daughter Helen Chase from their home in the Catskills to New Haven to revisit his favorite campus haunts. As part of the trip, they arranged to meet with 103-year-old Sperie Perakos ’38 B.A., whom they had come to know through his regular “Class Notes” columns in Yale Alumni Magazine.

Sperie lives with his wife, Nikki, in a contemporary home in Orange, Connecticut that spreads out from its center like bird wings in flight. They were joined during the Chases’ visit by neighbor Mary Howard, whose late husband, Albert Howard ’58 B.S., ’63 Ph.D., taught nuclear physics for more than 40 years at Trinity College.

We delighted in reading those columns,” Helen Chase told the assembled group, noting that her father’s class year — 1939 — had a regular “Class Notes” secretary, but he passed away. “Sperie and Nikki have an active social life — and that has kept their column exciting.”

In one column he writes: “Yale, as we all know, is no longer your father’s Yale. We find many of the proliferating changes and progressions to be forward-thinking, and these notes help keep readers aware and in step with an ever-changing academic world at our alma mater.”

The first official 80th reunion at Yale — which the Perakoses attended — was held in 2018, when there were 16 surviving members of the class. This year, alumni celebrating 80 years gathered again as part of the Senior Luncheon during the first reunion weekend, where they enjoyed a visit and impromptu song with President Peter Salovey.

A group of alumni at this year’s Senior Luncheon join President Peter Salovey for an impromptu song.
A group of alumni at this year’s Senior Luncheon join President Peter Salovey for an impromptu song. (Photo credit: Mara Lavitt)

In the course of their conversation, Chase and Perakos discovered they had a number of experiences in common. Both had fenced under celebrated coach Papa Grasson who advocated fencing as an art form and led Yale to a string of records. Howard noted that Grasson also taught at Gateway School for Girls in New Haven at that time. “Everyone knew how to fence,” she says.

Perakos’ roommate at Yale was Sargent Shriver ’38 B.A., ’41 J.D., a founder of the Peace Corps and president of the Special Olympics, who led students in a summer abroad program called the Experiment for International Living (now part of World Learning) in Germany. Chase attended one such trip as an undergraduate in 1933. “Shriver was very nice to his junior colleagues,” Chase says. 

Both Chase and Perakos served in the military, and though their lives diverged — Perakos became head of a family drive-in movie theater business, and Chase pursued a career as a corn cytogeneticist and international corn breeder — they both remained committed to Yale.

Their talk turned to the Peabody Museum. The late Charles Remington, who was a curator at the Peabody’s Division of Entomology and a longtime professor at Yale, was a close friend of the Perakoses. For 15 years, Sperie Perakos was president of the Peabody Association and the couple recently donated their Mesoamerican pre-Columbian collection to the museum.

A scene from Commencement in 1939
A scene from Commencement in 1939 (Photo courtesy Yale Manuscripts and Archives)

Nikki and I are content knowing that our lovingly collected pieces will be on view for future Yale generations of visitors,” Perakos wrote in “Class Notes.” “The museum is one of the jewels in the crown that is Yale.”

Chase, meanwhile, donated a small portion of his own collection of historical letters to the Sterling Memorial Library. “One of my ancestors was a paymaster on General Grant’s staff at Vicksburg during the Civil War, and was later a mayor of Omaha and a founder of the University of Nebraska, and his papers came to me,” Chase said. 

The senior alumni are as interested as ever in remaining connected, says Nikki Perakos, who adds that Sperie often receives emails from younger alumni who comment on his columns.

Though Chase could not attend the official 80th Yale gathering because he was being honored that weekend at the 50th anniversary of the conservation and development organization he founded in the Catskills, he and his daughter say they felt they still captured the reunion spirit.

There’s a spirit that will never die at Yale,” Sperie Perakos says. Sherret Chase agrees.