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Comstock friends reunite, learn what’s changed and hasn’t

Dee McGonigle and Tom Perko grew up as close friends in the Comstock Park neighborhood.  "We were inseparable" says McGonigle. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Dee McGonigle and Tom Perko grew up as close friends in the Comstock Park neighborhood. "We were inseparable" says McGonigle. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Tom Perko and Dee McGonigle, both 52, grew up a block from Comstock Park. They became best friends when Perko was in the sixth grade and his family moved to the 1000 block of West Comstock Court, just a skip away from the McGonigle home in the 3000 block of South Jefferson Street.

The two played golf together nearly every summer day in their teen years but lost touch after graduating from Gonzaga Prep. They hadn’t connected since the late 1970s. They reunited June 30 to walk their old neighborhood.

Perko now lives in Dublin, Calif., in the East San Francisco Bay area. McGonigle lives in Spokane, just off of Rockwood Boulevard.

They were surprised at all the similarities in their adult lives.

How they met: Perko’s family was touring their soon-to-be new home in 1970. McGonigle and his brother, Mike, saw the family and joined them on the house tour.

“Dee was the first person I met,” Perko remembered.

Life in the ’hood: In the summer, they were up and out on their bikes each morning. There were lots of swims at Comstock pool. On the bluff below High Drive, “we would spend eight hours unearthing a monster rock just to watch it roll down the bluff,” McGonigle said.

In their teen years, “we’d ride our bikes up to Manito (golf course) with golf clubs over our backs. At night, we’d go to Safeway and buy 12 doughnuts for a buck,” Perko said.

Added McGonigle: “And pumpkin pies and eat the whole pie sitting on the pile of Presto logs in front of the store.”

They played baseball in the street with neighbor kids and tackle football games on the McGonigles’ front lawn.

The fathers in the neighborhood were well-known community members who worked long hours and weren’t afraid to rule the neighborhood, either.

Perko’s dad worked for Washington Trust Bank and eventually became its president. McGonigle’s father was a vascular surgeon.

“My dad would discipline the whole neighborhood,” Perko remembered, “If Dee or Mike were around and they were part of the problem, they’d be part of the discipline. A scolding for them, a swat for us.”

How the neighborhood has changed: The trees and shrubs have grown lush and large. The Perko kids planted spruce seedlings next to the garage in 1971 or 1972. The trees are now about 50 feet tall and 20 feet around.

The area south of the neighborhood was almost all woods. Now it’s all homes.

Neighborhood families skewed large. The Perkos had six kids. The McGonigles? Also six.

Now, on the recent summer morning when the friends reunited, no children were out and about, though McGonigle, who has friends in the area, says the neighborhood is still popular with young families.

“Halloween, this place is nuts,” he told Perko.

A lawn service, with three eager workers, mowed and trimmed in front of Perko’s old house as the grown men strolled through their childhood haunts.

In the 1970s, they were the lawn service for their families.

How the neighborhood has stayed the same: The 1950s-1960s ranchers are meticulously maintained. The lawns, too. Its proximity to Comstock Park has helped keep it one of Spokane’s most coveted neighborhoods.

Life after the ’hood: Perko got a bachelor’s degree in building construction from the University of Washington and an MBA from the University of Michigan.

He served in the Peace Corps in Togo, Africa from 1986 to 1989, then his work life hopscotched between nonprofits and the business world, including stints with Catholic Relief Services, the World Bank and Manito Construction in California.

Earlier this year, he was named executive director of Extollo International, a Christian humanitarian organization with a mission to train local populations in the building of structurally sound homes and schools.

McGonigle graduated in 1983 from the University of Washington’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning with an emphasis in construction management, and worked in Seattle until his return to Spokane in 1991.

In 1999, he formed SRM Development with John Stone, Bryan Stone and Jim Rivard. The company has developed more than $1 billion worth of residential projects in cities throughout the West with a focus on retirement and mixed-use living.

Lifelong lessons from the neighborhood:

• Hard work. Perko and McGonigle saw their fathers work long hours, and their mothers doing double duty at home.

“The mothers deserve a ton of credit,” McGonigle said. “They managed the chaos and provided endless love for us. We would go over and Mrs. Perko would be making sandwiches and just make six more.”

The teens in the neighborhood all worked summer jobs. McGonigle and his brother, Mike, had a Spokesman-Review paper route and soon gained neighborhood fame for delivering the papers by 4:30 every morning while fighting with each other the entire route.

• Giving back. “My father did a lot of work with the United Way when I was growing up. He didn’t talk about it much, but we knew,” Perko said.

Looking out for the poor permeates Perko’s work now. He manages Extollo teams that help Haitians help themselves by learning how to build earthquake-sturdy structures.

McGonigle’s firm donates mega-amounts of time and building materials to Habitat for Humanity.

“My folks always reminded us we were blessed,” he said. “So we try to look at how to help others. We picked Habitat because it works so well with our business.”

Surprising similarities: Both men pursued careers designing and building stable, sustainable dwellings and communities.

Both married late and have young children. Perko and his wife, Deanne, have two boys: Ethan, 8, and Braydon, 6.

McGonigle and his wife, Mary, also have two boys: Michael, 12, and Sean, 10.

Both men – in reaction to the loving but sometimes stern dads in their childhood neighborhood – are gentler fathers.

“I always put them to bed at night, and if I feel like I yelled at them too much that day, I always apologize,” Perko said of his children.

McGonigle gave him a “me-too” nod.

Both still golf, but their eating-whole-pies days are over. They stay fit to keep up with their young boys.

After they walked the ’hood, McGonigle and Perko went golfing, just like in their teen years.

But instead of riding their bikes, golf clubs slung over their backs, they drove to the course, golf clubs in the trunks of their dads’ cars.