Musician, Mentor, Leader

Dan Perrino leaves behind scores of memories and friends at the University of Illinois.

Dan Perrino on drums with the Medicare 7, 8 or 9 Dixieland Jazz Band. UIAA Archive Photo
Dan Perrino leaves behind scores of memories and friends at the University of Illinois.

Early in his musical career, Dan Perrino ’48 FAA, MS ’49 FAA, may have been known as “62 Inches of Swing” (in reference to his height), but his lasting impact on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will forever loom large.

A beloved campus figure whose charm, talent and sincerity felled any and all he met, Perrino died Aug. 17 at age 91. More than 500 people flooded in from across the country for the musical celebration of his life, held at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center in September. The event underscored the message of empathy and empowerment that stood at the core of Perrino’s existence.

In terms of mere occupational titles, Perrino was a musician, band leader, professor and administrator. He also served on staff at the UI Alumni Association from October 1992-December 2001, planning programs for senior alumni and retired faculty in the area. Well-known as a mentor of young singers, he helped cultivate their talents and bring them to prominence in the local community.

Titles, however, don’t adequately reflect Perrino’s pioneering influences on longstanding traditions and institutions at the U of I.

His work to enhance and maintain life at the University created a more welcoming campus home and gave many students experiences they would never forget.

The Black Chorus (1968). African-American Cultural Program (1969). Quad Day (1971). La Casa Cultural Latina (1974). As dean of student programs and services from 1968-1976, Perrino had at least one hand, not to mention a very big heart, in the founding of these organizations and traditions, which continue to be cherished at the University to this day.

And then, of course, there was the Medicare 7, 8 or 9 Dixieland Jazz Band (1969).

What started out as an impromptu coming together of faculty and student musicians to quell the campus unrest of the late 1960s evolved into one of the most popular groups of goodwill ambassadors the University has known. A flexible ensemble that featured more than 120 musicians over the years, the Medicare group performed for University and alumni audiences throughout the nation until the late ’90s.

Thousands of students and alumni have been touched by these and other outreach efforts created at times when people who needed to understand one another better sometimes weren’t inclined to do so. But Perrino was a master bridge-builder, and his legacy lies in the ingeniously simple ways he developed to bring about a lasting human connection.

Faurie ’86 MEDIA is the UIAA vice president of corporate communications and interim associate chancellor of alumni relations.