money a little at a time – with tax advantages
and the potential for growth – then the late
crunch wouldn’t be so severe.
Eventually, the SMART529 program was
born. It is West Virginia’s officially sanctioned
college savings plan, with assets totaling over
$2 billion. Of 120,000 accounts nationwide,
about 23,000 are owned by West Virginians at
a value of $397 million.
Perdue’s efforts in the college savings
industry have made the program a nationally
recognized investment plan. He says it’s one
of his greatest accomplishments during his
more than 17 year tenure as Treasurer. He
concedes his modest background helped
shaped his determination for the program’s
“It reminds me of simpler, less complicated
times and when I sort of came into my own,”
Perdue said. “I was discovering certain talents
and some sense of leadership abilities. And
there has always been something special
about growing produce and working the land. I
feel close to God and my roots.”
When Douglass auctioned off Perdue’s
strawberries, the youngster made a vow that
he would work for the commissioner one
day. He would go on to spend 16 years in
that office, until incoming Governor Gaston
Caperton recognized Perdue’s skills as a
behind-the-scenes assistant who knew how to
get things done.
After his years with Gov. Caperton, Perdue
defeated businessman Stan Klos of Wheeling
Perdue’s beginnings were not unusual
in the fall of 1996 and took office as Treasurer
circumstances for a kid growing up in
in January 1997. Since his first election, he
southern West Virginia. To supplement income has been a champion for higher education and
from the family general store, the Perdue
financial education programs.
family grew all manner of fruits and vegetables
and sold them at roadside stands.
“Nothing opens the doors of opportunity
like education,” Perdue is frequently heard
Saturdays proved especially lucrative.
John could help an older brother on the truck,
just the two of them, learning the ways of
In today’s world, even if a student qualifies
commerce while bonding on country roads.
for generous financial aid, shortfalls often
occur. A college savings nest egg makes
“We’d drive down into Mitchell Heights,
handling those shortfalls much easier and
Logan,” Perdue said. “Located where we were, reduces or eliminates debt.
we could head that way or go into Madison
and Danville. Those were booming towns back
“It reminds me of how we used to yield a
in those days. You’ve got to remember, this
crop,” Treasurer Perdue said. “You’d till the
was the 1960s and we’d shoot for $100 a day
ground, ready the soil and plant the seeds.
and usually hit it. We’d split it between us.”
But that wasn’t the end of it. It was an ongoing
process, right up until harvest.
The Treasurer’s strawberries were
always a huge hit. He won a Future Farmers
“That’s the way it is with saving for college.
of America contest, which meant longtime
It isn’t always easy. It takes a while. But it sure
Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass
is nice when the reward is waiting for you.”
would auction the berries. He did, for the
For more information on the SMART529
familiar sum of $100. A photo of a thin, crewCollege Savings Program or to enroll, go to
cut Perdue standing on the auction stage next www.SMART529.COM or call 1-877-767-8529.
to Douglass is still proudly displayed in the
Treasurer’s office at the State Capitol.
West Virginia Farm Bureau News 23