Michael V. Hannigan
Even if you’ve never heard Perry Eaton sing — I’m sorry for your loss if you haven’t — you still may have heard his voice.
Perry has announced Athens Junior High School football games, provided color commentary for Hornet high school games on the radio, and even announced TVCC football games a time or two.
He may have coached your child in Little Dribblers, or handed your graduate a Laffy Taffy.
Let me tell you, Perry is known in this town. I had lunch with him this week, and had to time my questions for between visits from the folks who spotted us in the corner.
What he’s best known for, though, is being the music minister and youth minister at Dogwood Baptist Church.
But no more. After 13 years and nine months (“I looked back so I knew exactly how long it was when I said goodbye”), he is leaving the church.
There will be a reception Sunday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the church for Perry. That’s the main reason for this column. To invite you to the reception.
The other reason is to acknowledge a man who has meant so much to so many for so long.
(Full disclosure: Perry Eaton led me to the Lord while the two of us sat in his office at Dogwood Baptist Church several years ago, with Perry flashing his trademark smile and me staring at a poster announcing a Phillips, Craig and Dean concert at the church.)
The good news is he’ll be staying in Athens and he’ll keep on spreading the Good News the best way he knows how, through humor and music. Perry’s music and personality are in great demand by small churches and revivals in the area. Today, he carries his cell phone and schedule with him wherever he goes so he can answer when the Spirit rings — and he prays it rings plenty.
While he has done this type of ministry ever since I’ve known him, I didn’t know just how long Perry had been a road warrior. He said he first started singing on the revival circuit after his father gave him a portable sound system as a high school graduation present.
That was fun, but Perry had different ideas for his future. Although he continued to sing and preach at little churches and revivals, he went to San Jacinto College on a basketball scholarship, and then followed his basketball skills to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, where he earned a degree in education.
You see, Perry was going to be a college basketball coach.
But God, as He often does, had different plans.
First, a woman with an oil well insisted Perry record an album, and in 1981 he made “God’s Little Miracle.”
Then, a series of acquaintances brought him to the attention of the Rev. James Goforth at First Baptist Church, Rockdale. Before he even graduated college — or married his wife, Tina — the church called Perry as music and youth minister. The young couple happily answered yes.
From there, to Tennessee, to Rusk, Texas and the Rev. Goforth again, that’s the way it went.
Along the way, he saw the start of the “Experiencing God” series by Henry T. Blackaby, since Blackaby is a personal friend of Goforth’s. He also started working at the Pineywoods Baptist Encampment and, in fact, is listed as a director for a camp this summer.
His work in youth camps is so well-known, he was a main source for a story on the subject in the March 24, 1999 Baptist Standard.
Pineywoods named a dorm in his honor recently, he said,
In 1992, while all that was going on, Perry received several calls from large churches looking for a music and youth minister.
But he chose Dogwood Baptist Church, which was running about 120 members at the time, he said.
“We just knew it was a God thing,” he said. “We saw God moving, and we wanted to be were God was moving.”
Notice all the “we’s?” That’s because Perry doesn’t talk about his ministry without talking about Tina.
“This is really ‘our’ ministry,” he said. “She’s been such a big part of this thing.”
This thing included a growth explosion at Dogwood in the late 90s, and a service big on music and the unexpected. Perry remembers that time with pride.
“We were a part of something that the whole community knew was a God-thing,” he said. “We were making an impact on the area. That wasn’t a me-thing, or a (Pastor Phil Greenawalt)-thing, that was a God thing.”
In the end, what Perry and Tina — along with their sons Preston, 21, Patrick (Patch), 20, Pierce, 16, and Peyton, 13 — have done is become a part of the fabric of the community.
Because whether he sang a song, coached your kid, prayed over your graduate — or led you to Christ — chances are if you know Athens, you know Perry.