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Remembering Bridgeville's Amy Perkins

| Monday, June 4, 2018, 1:46 a.m.

The Bridgeville area recently lost one its most distinguished citizens with the passing of centenarian Amy (Purnell) Perkins. She was born May 20, 1915, the daughter of Leroy and Viola Purnell.

Perkins died May 20, 2018, at 103.

Before she was old enough to know her father, World War I took him to France, where he died, the first African-American from the Bridgeville area to lose his life in the service of his country.

Years later the government arranged for mothers and widows of servicemen buried in France to visit the cemeteries in which their loved ones were buried. Over 6,000 women participated in this pilgrimage. Unfortunately in those days of Jim Crow segregation, African-American families were not included. Fortunately, Mrs. Perkins' employer, Dr. Fife, interceded and made it possible for her to make the trip separately.

The Bridgeville Area Historical Society has a poignant photograph of Viola Purnell at her husband's grave in France, an archetypical symbol of the horror of war and its aftereffects on its survivors. It is ironic that we are writing this on Memorial Day weekend.

Despite being orphaned as a small child and reaching maturity at the height of the Depression, Perkins prospered as a survivor. She is recorded as a graduate of the Class of 1934 of Bridge­ville High School. Among other members of the class were John Abraham, Arthur Colussy, John Deklewa, Jane Patton and Arthur Rittenhouse. Perkins was obviously BHS' oldest living alumnus. One wonders who has inherited that distinction?

She became a licensed practical nurse and spent many productive years at Kane Hospital serving the elderly and indigent. She married Morris Perkins and began a family that eventually included 11 great-grandchildren.

The First Baptist Church of Bridgeville and Amy Perkins are practically synonymous; she served as deaconess and as the moral conscience of the congregation.

In later years her interests included Meals on Wheels and the Bridgeville Food Bank. Very few people can match her service to her community. It is trite to say she will be missed, but that statement has seldom been more appropriate.

One of best things about writing this column is the feedback we get from readers. Georgia Abraham emailed us in response to the column dealing with the Bridgeville High School classes of 1950 and 1951, in which we reported the election of Louise Tonarelli as May Queen in 1950.

Georgia reported “The mention of Louise Tonarelli as May Queen brought back a favorite memory. Her father was on strike at the time she was selected as May Queen, and the Baldwin Street neighborhood got together and collected money so that she could purchase her new dress to wear to the coronation. One of the many pluses of growing up in Bridgeville at the time.”

That is indeed a wonderful memory and a wonderful story; our thanks to Georgia. On the same general subject, we owe Arlene Toney an apology. She was the Maid of Honor for the May Dance in 1951; we inadvertently referred to her as Audrey.

We are grateful for the opportunity to keep local history alive.

John Oyler is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. He can be reached at 412-343-1652 or Read more from him at

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