Frank Perez

Former CEO, Kettering Health Network

My story: “I was 16 when Castro took office. My mother had become a very devout Seventh Day Adventist, and we found freedom of religion was being curtailed in the country. My mother found that to be unacceptable for my sisters, who were much younger than me–10, 4, and 3. It was my mother’s desire to have freedom of religion for her children, to have them be able to choose and not have belief imposed upon them. 1962, landed in Miami without a dime. A duffel bag, two pairs of underwear, one set of pants, one shirt, and my father’s borrowed shoes which were a size too small–so my first task was to find ten dollars to get a pair of sneakers!

I completed my masters at George Washington University, and then I got a residency and was asked to stay after the residency as vice president for the hospital. It seemed fairly quick because in 1966, when I got married, I hadn’t finished high school. In 1969 I was a senior in college and got a job in the finance office, and a few years later, I was vice president of a hospital in Jersey City, New Jersey.

At that time in Hudson County, the Italians and Irish had prospered and moved on, and this county had need for manual labor. The county commissioners went down to Miami and recruited a bunch of Cubans to transport for jobs, and the community became predominantly Hispanics and mature Italians, and I think that was what opened the doors for me right out of school, because by that time there were doctors and others of Cuban background and the hospital felt having a Hispanic in a leadership position was a good thing.”

Coming to Ohio: “I had never been to the Midwest except to change planes in Chicago. When they were doing the search for the top position at Kettering, they’d never had a minority leader. The one condition I gave the board chair was that my decision had to be unanimous because I didn’t know this community and I didn’t know how a Cuban transplanted here was going to be accepted. My only concern was ‘Is my board going to be divided on my appointment?’ I found not only was my board accepting, but the community as well.

When I was being interviewed and it was evident I’d get the job, someone said, ‘Mrs. Kettering will never accept him.’ My board chair later said, ‘We think Frank was Mrs. Kettering’s long lost Cuban son.’ Carmen and I went to visit and meet her for the first time,  and she took us in with open arms and shared with us the love that she had for this community. She transferred that love to us, and through us back to the community.”

Why Dayton? “If you come here with good intentions and learn to love this community and are willing to put your nose to the grindstone, they don’t care what color your skin is, not even how you’re dressed. They don’t care. They accept you to be part of the leadership of this community and part of moving it forward. If you have an inclination to participate, you’re well received and invited to the table. It’s fulfilling. You don’t need to look for other things–you say, ‘These are good people. This is a good place.’ It’s worth fighting for. It’s worth giving your time and talent and pressure to advance.”