Two giants of Salisbury’s business community, Frank Perdue and Richard Henson, were great friends who loved to challenge each other in areas of community involvement and quality of life.
Even toward the end of Henson’s life when a once-vibrant man showed signs of slowing down, he immediately perked up when Perdue came to visit him in the hospital, said Steve Farrow, Henson’s nephew.
In Henson’s mind, “I can’t be anything other than at the top of my game when Frank Perdue comes,” Farrow said.
During their lifetimes, Perdue who with his father Arthur ran Perdue Farms and Henson who started Piedmont Airlines, devoted much of their lives to philanthropic causes, giving money to Salisbury University, Wor-Wic Community College, the YMCA, TidalHealth Peninsula Regional and other educational and nonprofit organizations, said Chris Perdue, grandson of Frank Perdue and the fourth generation in the family poultry business.
Now the foundations bearing their names will donate $1.25 million each to Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore for a new education center for financial literacy.
“This project, this dream, our Perdue Henson Junior Achievement Center is just incredibly exciting,” Perdue said during an event on Thursday outside the former Kmart store that will become the center.
The historic partnership marks the first time the two charitable foundations are coming together on a major initiative that will bear their names. It is a fitting tribute as Perdue and Henson were instrumental in bringing Junior Achievement to Salisbury in 1985, Chris Perdue said.
Henson in particular advocated heavily with business leaders to bring Junior Achievement to the Eastern Shore. He told a group of colleagues, “Our community can afford to support Junior Achievement. We cannot afford to not support the program.”
Salisbury is the perfect place to launch such a project and it is a better place because of Perdue and Henson, said Mayor Jake Day.
“Richard Henson, Frank Perdue and Arthur Perdue were titans of their respective industries,” Day said. “They loved what they did and they loved Salisbury.”
The new center is scheduled to open in fall 2023 in Oak Ridge Commons in Salisbury -- the former Kmart shopping center -- at the Route 50-Tilghman Road intersection. The location was selected, in part, because of its proximity to the Salisbury Bypass, said Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore President and CEO Jayme Hayes.
Junior Achievement officials on Thursday announced the start of a $5.5 million capital campaign to fund the new 25,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art learning center.
They also announced receipt of an anonymous $1 million donation, bringing the total raised so far to $3.5 million.
“This will be a true game-changer for the students on the Shore, our community, and for thousands of students in our region who deserve real-world experiences that prepare them for the future,” Hayes said in a statement.
The Perdue Henson Junior Achievement Center is an experiential learning facility that will house Junior Achievement’s capstone programs, Biztown and Finance Park, as well as a Career Center. These capstone programs include an in-classroom curriculum that culminates in an engaging real- life simulation to help students learn crucial life skills.
A mock city will provide students the opportunity to build a foundation upon which they can make intelligent financial decisions that last a lifetime.
The center will host 10,000 students from schools in Talbot, Caroline, Dorchester, Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset and Accomack counties.
Mike Dunn, president and CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee, said the center will become “a regional asset” that will benefit area schoolchildren.
“They’re going to have the opportunity to learn – learn finances, learn how to budget, learn about a career, make themselves better people,” said Dunn, who also serves as chairman of the JA Board of Directors. “Most of them will win.”
There are 58 similar facilities across the country, including three currently in Maryland and one in northern Delaware.
It is planned that during the K-12 experience, students will visit the center three different times above and beyond their two to three in-classroom interactions as well.
Worcester County Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor, who attended Thursday’s event, said Junior Achievement helps students learn about entrepreneurship, job readiness and financial literacy.
“If they’re going to be something in life, they have to have those skills,” he said.