Bob 'Chief' Perkins has gone from sailing seas to saving souls

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First is a series: Shepherding the Heartland

By Becca Owsley

“I’m a Yankee and I don’t eat green beans,” Bob “Chief” Perkins said about his northern roots.


Originally from Grand Rapids, Mich., the U.S. Navy and a job at Valley High School in Louisville brought Perkins to Kentucky. A call to the ministry brought him to Hardin County.

That road eventually led Perkins to Sonora Christian Church. At 90, Perkins claims to be the oldest preacher still “on active duty” in the county.

“And I’m handsome, too,” he added.

Landlocked now, his life once belonged to the Navy.

His 26-year Navy career began when he shipped out in 1942. Through his years he’s seen many wars and conflicts. In World War II, his ship was credited for being a part of the Normandy invasion. He was in China in 1949 when communists took over Shanghai. He also applied to go back to sea during the Korean War. He served on five flag ships with an admiral on board. Perkins spent three years in China and three years in Japan.

“If I was young enough, I’d go back in,” he said.

He finally retired when stationed in Yorktown, Va.

Perkins strayed off the Christian path while in the Navy and drank a lot, he said. He grew up in a Christian home and his first preacher was Dr. M.R. DeHaan who began the “Our Daily Bread” devotionals.

His chaplain in Yorktown knew his background and asked Perkins what he was doing with Jesus. He wanted to get him back into church and teach a class of youth.

The chaplain helped change Perkins from a sailor to a Christian, his wife, Helen, said.

Perkins quit drinking alcohol in 1963 and got his life back on the Christian path. A desire to serve God awoke in him and later led him to preach.

After retiring from the Navy, Perkins started the Junior ROTC program at Valley High School in Jefferson County and stayed there for three years. While in Louisville, he taught some of the boys at church who wanted to become ministers and thought preaching wasn’t a bad idea.

He went to Louisville Bible College and started preaching, becoming ordained in 1974.

After preaching in French Lick, Ind., Perkins became manager of White Mills Christian Camp and his wife was the dietician.

“She did all the work and I did all the supervision,” Perkins said.

Through their 10 years at the camp, he said they worked with 7,840 children.

“The only thing is, they’ve never had another good lookin’ manager,” he joked.

Perkins is recognized in town by many children, now grown up, who attended the camp. He also is well known for giving away silver dollars or gold coins to children. Some have kept their coins all their lives, he’s been told.

After serving at the camp, Perkins filled in as preacher of Vine Grove Christian Church for 14 years. After a few years as a substitute, or pulpit supply preacher, he became the interim minister at Sonora Christian in 2000. After 12 years, he’s still interim there.

It’s a small church, sometimes only having about a dozen in attendance. But even though the church is small they are a big financial supporter of the Gideon Bible ministry, something Perkins said he is proud of.

“We enjoy what we are doing,” he said. “Blessed because Jesus Christ is our lord and savior and we are governed by the Bible.”

Perkins stays healthy and active. He says it’s because Jesus hasn’t finished his castle in heaven yet.

He thinks he’ll live to be 100, but is OK if he doesn’t.

“I’m on my way to heaven and don’t care when I go, I’m ready,” he said, adding he knows more people up there than down here anyway.

Helen, his wife of 54 years, said Perkins doesn’t let life bother him. He’s patient and easy going, she said.

“We’ve had a blessed life, but I don’t do dishes,” Perkins said, adding he had no real complaints in life.

He takes one big lesson from the Navy that he said applies to church work and life, too.

“Do what you’re told, keep your mouth shut and go where they send you,” he said.

Remembering that will help, he said.

Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.

Getting to know Bob “Chief” Perkins:
Favorite movie: He hasn’t seen a movie since 1963.
Pets: Doesn’t have a pet but the neighbor’s cat lives with him because it refuses to go home.
Favorite Scripture verse: Galatians 6:9-10
Favorite person in the Bible, other than Jesus: The apostle Paul because he went through everything possible for a human being and remained faithful.
Favorite Hymn: When he was younger he heard his brother sing “How Great Thou Art.” It was the first time he ever heard it and has loved it ever since.
Family: He married later than most, in his late-30s, to his wife of 54 years, Helen. They have two sons, four granddaughters and two great-grandsons, one born on Perkins’ 89th birthday. Their only grandson was killed by a drunken driver on his 17th birthday.