By LANCE ARMSTRONG
In today’s world, it is certainly not very common to encounter someone with firsthand World War I related memories. And this is just part of the reason that the life of East Sacramento resident Mabel “Bunny” Perich can be of interest to so many people.
While sitting down and at times standing inside her residence at Mercy McMahon Terrace senior residential care facility last week, Bunny shared details about her life, which began on Nov. 24, 1912.
In recalling one of her World War I related memories, Bunny, who was raised adjacent to the west side of Chicago in the village of Oak Park, said, “I remember my mother (Mabel Gearon) making fudge during the First World War. Two of my uncles were over in Germany and I remember my mother packing fudge to send to one of them (Gratton Eugene Gearon) in 1917, before the war ended. I can still see her standing in the kitchen stirring the fudge and packing it in a tin box to mail over to my uncle.”
Bunny’s other World War I related memory involves an event, which was held at Chicago’s city hall shortly after the armistice between the allies and Germany was signed in Compiegne, France on Nov. 11, 1918.
“When the war ended, they had a pageant in city hall to commemorate all the men who had been killed during the war and I was dressed as a Red Cross nurse and a little boy was dressed as a doughboy – a soldier,” Bunny said. “I remember that they gave me a sterling silver spoon with (an image of) a Red Cross nurse on the handle and they gave the little boy a sterling silver spoon with (an image of) a soldier on the handle. I still have the Red Cross spoon. I don’t know the name of the little boy, because I only saw him that one day at the pageant.”
Two years later, Bunny took dancing lessons and was involved in a dancing recital in Chicago.
In remembering the recital, which she believes was held in a theater on Ashland Avenue, Bunny said, “I was dressed like a doll in a French doll store. That was the scene. I remember I did a dance and at the end of the dance – I had an American flag tucked down into my uniform – I came to the (theater) lights and I pulled the flag out, which was a silk flag, and held it up and the audience went wild.”
Bunny, who was given her nickname by her father, Joseph S. Gearon, who worked for the Department of Streets for the city of Chicago, also recalled the days of Prohibition.
“I remember my mother and father going out on Saturday nights to a speakeasy,” Bunny said. “I didn’t know it at the time where they went, but that’s where they would go on Saturday nights, not every Saturday. People would go to speakeasies back then and hope they wouldn’t get raided.”
Although she was certainly living in the Chicago area during the days of the notorious gangster Al Capone, Bunny said she does not remember hearing any Capone-related stories during that era.
Among Bunny’s favorite childhood memories was roller skating with her sister, Helen Marie, in the basement of her family’s home during the winters.
In 1927, Bunny graduated from the eighth grade at the now historic St. Edmund (Catholic parochial) School in Oak Park, Ill. The original, 15th century French Gothic designed portion of the school, which was built as a copy of the Palace of Justice in Rouen, France, opened in 1917.
Bunny, whose partial description of 5 feet, 2 inches tall with blue eyes would cause some people to begin singing a popular song of the past, graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Ill. in 1931.
Among the notable people to graduate from that school were the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway, McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, Dan Castellaneta, who provides the voice for the cartoon character Homer Simpson, National Football League Hall of Famer George Trafton and city planner and architect Burley Griffin.
In October 1937, Bunny married William J. “Bill” Luck, who worked for the Cherry-Burrell Corp., which was known for manufacturing dairy equipment. And less than two months later, he was transferred to work in San Francisco.
The couple’s first San Francisco residence was at Chestnut and Divisadero streets. And while residing in an apartment at Francisco and Gough streets, the couple had their first and only child, Nancy, on Nov. 13, 1940.
Like many people who recall World War II, Bunny remembers where she was when she learned that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor.
“I was giving my daughter a bath and my husband came rushing in and said, ‘I just heard on the radio they bombed Pearl Harbor,’” Bunny said.
And with the United States’ involvement in World War II came the blackouts, which Bunny also remembers well.
“They blacked out the whole city and they painted all the streetlights that faced the ocean black when they had blackouts,” Bunny said. “And they had air raid wardens to tell you to turn all your lights out and we would put blankets over the windows that faced outside. And then we would go up on the roof of the apartment house and the whole city was blacked out, but we could see the outline of the ships going under the Golden Gate (Bridge).”
After the war, Bunny and her family moved to 2566 39th Ave. in San Francisco’s Sunset District.
Bunny became a Sacramentan when she moved with her family into an apartment at 2230 10th Ave., near Sacramento Junior College (today’s Sacramento City College), in 1947.
Bill, who was married to Bunny for 37 years, died at the age of 64 on June 23, 1976.
Bunny, who worked as a clerk in the bonds section of the state treasurer’s office from 1960 to 1980 and is a lifetime member of St. Patrick’s Home Guild, married a widower named Peter J. Perish (1909-1987) in 1981.
Peter and Bunny spent about seven years of their retirement lives together, enjoying a variety of activities, including traveling through Europe.
Among Bunny’s most gratifying activities during her life was her volunteer work for such places as Holy Spirit Parish and School and the Sacramento Children’s Home through her service to the Los Niños Service League, which raised funds through its assistance to the Casa de Los Niños luncheon restaurant – today’s Casa Garden Restaurant.
In January 2004, following an unfortunate incident when she fell and broke her hip, Bunny became a resident of Mercy McMahon Terrace.
Until her accident, she had been living alone and driving her own vehicle.
She said that her decision to move to her current home was an excellent one.
“I decided I would stay at Mercy McMahon, because it’s a wonderful facility for older people with nice people, good food and good care,” Bunny said.
Despite residing in this facility, Bunny, who enjoys reading historical novels and occasionally playing bridge, remains very independent, as she takes her own medicine and is still mobile on her two feet.
In reviewing her life as a soon-to-be centenarian, Bunny said, “I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a wonderful life.”