Friends, former students plan living memorial for Wheeling teacher Burt Perlow
Big and muscular, Burt Perlow cast an imposing shadow during his years as a teacher and coach at Holmes Middle School in Wheeling and Wheeling High School.
But the giant of a man was most definitely gentle -- and kind, and generous.
"If a kid couldn't afford something, he'd go buy it for him," said former Wheeling Village President Greg Klatecki, who coached with Perlow at Holmes. "That's the kind of guy he was."
Klatecki and other retired teachers now are planning a living memorial for Perlow, who died last month at 71.
They want to plant a crimson king maple tree and display a boulder outside Holmes to honor their friend.
"Anybody driving down Wolf Road will be able to see the tree and know that's Burt's tree," Klatecki said.
A football player in his youth, Perlow taught physical education and coached wrestling at Holmes for many years. He also was a volunteer football assistant at Wheeling High.
A believer in strength and conditioning programs for young athletes, Perlow was known for rewarding those who put in extra time in the weight room with T-shirts reading "Perlow Steel" on the front.
The slogan honored the Perlow family's steel company.
Perlow retired in 2006 and was named to the Wheeling High athletic hall of fame in 2009.
Jon Kolssak, owner of the Wheeling funeral home that bears his name, was among the many wrestlers Perlow coached at Holmes. He recalled Perlow as "intimidating, intense, driven and caring."
"As you got to know (him), you gained an appreciation for how much he cared for his student-athletes, not just on the field or in the weight room but who they were as people," said Kolssak, a 1993 Wheeling High graduate. "He did so many things behind the scenes to make the kids the best version of themselves."
Other former students have shared memories of Perlow on social media. One, Prospect Heights resident Bill Cook, recalled Perlow's zeal to draw kids to the Holmes wrestling team.
"I think if you were able to stand upright, he tried to recruit you into wrestling," said Cook, a 2007 Wheeling High graduate who had Perlow as a gym teacher in middle school.
Klatecki and a small group of fellow retirees developed the tree memorial proposal after Perlow's passing.
"We thought we had to do something for Burt," Klatecki said.
Wheeling Township Elementary School District 21 officials only recently learned of the concept and are in conversations with the organizers, spokeswoman Kara Beach said. Nothing has been approved.
The organizers hope to raise $6,000 to pay for the project.
Supporters can make donations to the Burt Perlow Memorial Fund at any Fifth Third Bank.