Coastal Star: Message of hope not lost on Wayside board member

Perry O’Neal has stepped down as president of the board

of Wayside House, but will remain active with the center,

which helps women battle addiction.

Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star 


By Linda Haase 

    Perry O’Neal’s message is simple: There is help. There is hope. And women who are battling addictions can find it at Wayside House.

    O’Neal, who lives in Gulf Stream, just stepped down as president of the Wayside House board of directors, a post he has held since 1992. He is passionate about the nonprofit treatment program for women who struggle with substance abuse; and his commitment to the Delray Beach facility won’t wane after he leaves his post, he promises (he’ll remain a member of the board).

    “People used to say Wayside was the best-kept secret in town, but we have made ourselves known. We have expanded to 31 beds and have helped many women,” said O’Neal, who, as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, knows the pitfalls of addiction.

    “Every month people come back to Wayside to celebrate being sober, and they tell their story to those who are undergoing treatment. They learn that there is life after substance abuse. It is very inspiring.”  

    That’s why the 84-year-old retired banker is doing his part to promote Wayside House’s Spring Boutique and preview party Feb. 24-27. The popular event, which lures vendors from across the country, raises money for the facility’s programs.  

    The event began more than 20 years ago in one room, he said. It has grown tremendously, he said with pride.  “It gives people a chance to learn about Wayside House and buy things from stores that aren’t in the area.”

    O’Neal turned to AA when he was 48 to get help with his drinking problem.

    “My drinking increased as I got older, but I went to work every day and was careful about not drinking too much in public, so people were surprised to hear I was in AA,” he explained, adding that the stigma of getting treatment was much stronger back then. “If the bank I worked for knew I was in AA, I would have been fired. They would have thought I couldn’t be trusted with money if I was an alcoholic.”

    O’Neal worked at Indiana National Bank for 25 years as a vice president and trust officer.

    “My sister suggested I go to AA. I saw all these happy people, and I knew I wanted to be one of them. Life became good without alcohol. Some people say ‘oh poor you, you can’t drink.’ They don’t know how lucky I am that I found AA and am able to live a clean and sober life.” 

    His experience makes it easier to relate to those who seek help at Wayside House, which was founded in 1974 (the new clinical wing will be dedicated to O’Neal this month). 

    O’Neal, who is a Yale University grad and has a law degree from University of Virginia School of Law, moved to Gulf Stream in 1986 and began helping Wayside House shortly after. 

    Although Gulf Stream is very different from Indianapolis, where O’Neal was born and grew up, the bachelor quickly came to love the area. He served on the town’s Architectural Review Board for 12 years and is the former president of the Gulf Stream Civic Association. “It is peaceful and quiet. It is a nice place to live,” says O’Neal, who keeps active and goes to the gym several times a week.  

    “I have plenty to keep me busy. I’m never bored.”

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