Of the many inspirational leaders I am fortunate enough to know, Aurthur Mae Perkins is one of the legends. For years, she has served tirelessly as a school teacher, principal, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, volunteer and community leader. And I’m proud to call her a friend.

Mrs. Perkins will be the first to admit that wearing all these hats has not been easy. But it’s evident that her sincerest pleasure has been working to improve the lives of others. She’s always had a passion for lending a helping hand. For instance, at a time when Peoria saw many refugees returning from the Vietnam War, Mrs. Perkins offered to help one young woman struggling to get back on her feet. She took her into her home and took care of her.

Having put her education on hold to raise a family, Mrs. Perkins understands the challenges that can interfere with advancing one’s education. At the age of 40, she was finally able to return to school. After receiving her GED, she attended junior college and graduated alongside her son, Tony Perkins. While Tony went on to University of Illinois, Mrs. Perkins went on to Bradley before earning her master’s degree.

Answering a call to teach, Mrs. Perkins has excelled as an educator. In the classroom, she helped many students accomplish great things—from increasing test scores to earning recognition from the Illinois State Board of Education. But when people speak of Mrs. Perkins’ accomplishments, they praise her ability to realize every person’s true potential, whether a child, parent, neighbor or friend. The thousands of children who have gone through her classroom can attest to her incredible influence as a leader able to touch lives and form lasting connections.

Mrs. Perkins went on to become the principal of Harrison School, eventually serving longer than any other principal in District 150. Rightfully so, she has been recognized by many for her accomplishments as an outstanding school administrator. She is also well-known for her volunteer efforts and leadership in the community. Influenced by her caring mother, who was also an educator, Mrs. Perkins knows that a loving family can nurture a child better than any classroom.

A natural leader even before her formal education, Mrs. Perkins was always involved in her church. Outside of church, she would often bring kids in off the street to teach them about the Bible. Inviting them into her home for Bible lessons was just one way Mrs. Perkins became a local celebrity to all the children.

While Mrs. Perkins sees herself as matriarch of her large family, I consider her to be the matriarch of our community. As someone who has taken education seriously from a young age, I know how important it is to have compassionate and dedicated teachers. I also understand the importance of community volunteers willing to dedicate their time to leadership positions. These can be thankless roles, and it takes a gifted and uncompromising character to devote oneself to helping others.

Don’t be fooled by the locality of Mrs. Perkins’ accomplishments. Her former pupils span the globe, taking her lessons with them. That’s the benefit of longstanding leadership and contributing to so many lives. I can tell you from personal experience that Mrs. Perkins has always been there for me. Every time I recall a lesson or heed her advice, Mrs. Perkins makes a positive impact on Washington, and in turn, our nation. I’ll never forget standing with her on stage when I first announced my run for Congress. I’m grateful for her friendship, and I’m thankful she continues to have a positive impact on my life.

Knowing Mrs. Perkins, she’ll never take the credit for her achievements without sharing it with those who helped her along the way. But she has been there for us through and through. And I would be pleased if, one day, I could look back on my public service and reflect on as many meaningful contributions to the people that I help Mrs. Perkins serve. As President Lincoln once said, “I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.” Aurthur Mae Perkins will surely do the same. iBi