By Heather DiPrato. Photos: Frank Pronesti of Heirloom Studio
Warm breezes, salt air, and families enjoying frozen treats. Ice cream has always had a way of bringing people together. What’s better on a hot summer day than the jingle of an ice cream truck?
Liz and Perry Warren’s story began during the summer of 1984 in Beach Haven, NJ. “I was the Ice Cream Man,” laughs Perry. Fresh out of college and running his first business, he looks back at that time of his life fondly. “Running an ice cream truck is the perfect blend of physicality, strategy, and competitiveness,” Perry tells us. “You lease the truck, buy the ice cream, pull up to the beach, ring the bell, serve the customers. You are moving fast, 7-days-a-week, every day of the summer. It’s fun!” Even 35 years later, his passion for the business is evident.
During his first summer as the ice cream man, Liz Bell noticed Perry, the following summer they met, and he captured her heart. They’d met while out with friends a week or so before. “Liz had this distinctive blonde hair, and one night after I’d packed up the truck, I was on my bike riding home and saw her riding ahead of me,” Perry recalls, “I raced to catch up and pulled ahead of her, kind of joking about my superior cycling skills,” he laughs at the memory. Liz remembers that evening well, “Perry was the most adorable, funny, and smartest person I had ever met, I knew it right away.”
Liz was 18, at the shore after her freshman year at the University of Delaware. At 20, Perry had already earned his B.A. in Political Science from Colgate University, graduating with honors. That night, the two talked and hit it off. Perry ended the evening by walking Liz home, and she surprised him by kissing him goodnight. They became inseparable that summer.
After a year of frequent visits to Delaware while managing a newly purchased franchise store for a family friend (and a third summer in the ice cream business), Perry was planning to attend the University of North Carolina for MBA studies. An off-handed comment by his mom’s best friend changed his mind. “Too bad about you and Liz,” she said. Perry said that he and Liz were committed to a long-distance relationship. “Well, you know, that never works out.” The comment rang in his head for days. When he missed his move-in date and UNC called to ask if he was still coming, he said, “I guess not.” Things had changed.
Instead, while helping Liz move into her sorority house at UOD, Perry stopped by the History Education department to see if he could take graduate classes there. Though this was an unusual request (he had not applied or preregistered), they granted it. Perry earned a teaching certificate, and a year later, after his fourth summer of ice cream, began teaching high school social studies. Liz graduated from Delaware with a B.S.N. and practiced nursing, beginning at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia.
Perry’s family was from Newtown, and though they moved when he was 5 years old, his grandparents lived in Newtown and he always considered it home. Coincidentally, Liz’s parents moved to Newtown from Princeton in 1987. Liz and Perry were married at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Newtown in 1988. Two years later, Perry finally made that trip to the University of North Carolina, this time with Liz and a new baby. He attended their Law School, while Liz worked at UNC Hospitals.
The next few years were spent growing their family and building their careers. Perry graduated from UNC Law School with honors. The family, by then with a second baby, moved back up north, where Perry clerked with a judge then worked with a large law firm. Liz further honed her nursing skills at Hahnemann, St. Francis, and Capital Health hospitals, becoming a head nurse before she was 30. After 3 ½ years of big firm life, Perry and Paul Maselli founded the law firm Maselli Warren, P.C. in Princeton in 1998. By the autumn of 1998, Liz and Perry had welcomed three children, Charles, Molly, and Peter, and their fourth was on the way.
Looking back, October 25th started like any other weekend day, a kids’ basketball game in the morning, a friend's birthday party afterward. But that afternoon, 3-year-old Peter was playing outside and had an accident. Liz found him unconscious, called for help, and began CPR. "The paramedics came quickly, in just minutes," recalls Liz. "We rushed Peter to the hospital, the one where I worked. I can still remember the looks on my coworkers' faces," her voice trails off as she collects herself. The Warrens were told by the medical team that their little boy would not survive. To allow Peter's beautiful spirit to live on, they agreed to donate his organs and tissue to those in need of transplants.
“The year after losing Peter was a blur,” says Liz. “I remember many people showed us kindness. There was a man who worked in the frozen food section of our grocery store. I would be walking around with my infant daughter and he would see me and say, ‘hey honey, you need chicken this week.’ I don't know what groceries I would have come home with if it weren't for him,” Liz tells us. “It was also during this time we met other bereaved parents through Gift of Life and The Compassionate Friends, two organizations that helped our family tremendously during this time.”
"Our priorities and trajectory changed,” says Perry. “At that point, Liz and I shifted our focus to healing our family.” Perry and Liz moved back to Newtown the year after Peter died. Their kids attended Council Rock Schools and loved growing up in Newtown. Over time, as they began to heal, the Warrens felt a calling to become more involved in helping others. “You get to a place deep in your heart where you just have to do more,” Liz explains. “We feel a responsibility to help others and serve as a resource for bereaved parents. This made us so empathetic and helped us foster that empathy in our children,” Liz continued.
“Having compassion is a central value for our family, and our children embraced this as well.” In 2005, Maselli Warren opened its Newtown office. "Our goal was always to have a firm focused on quality and compassionate legal services," says Perry. "We hired Brian Mills, an attorney and Council Rock grad who lived in Newtown, and he was the first lawyer we hired who became a partner in the firm," Perry explained. "Over the years, we were fortunate to work with friends and local businesses and able to build a strong, regional law firm with 10 attorneys.”
According to Brian Mills, “I met Perry in 2002 while he was interviewing law students at Rutgers Law School. When he told me the firm's plan was to expand into Pennsylvania and open an office in Newtown, I knew it was the firm I wanted to join. In the 18 years since, our relationship has evolved from boss, to mentor, to friend and partner.“ Perry has been certified by the Supreme Court of NJ as a civil trial attorney, an honor bestowed on just 2% of peers.
Liz acknowledges that, as Perry worked to build his law practice, she was a big part of getting him involved in social activities and community events. Although she describes Perry as a "hard worker that is quiet and introverted by nature," she is also clearly his biggest fan. “Perry is such a great guy,” she explains. “I could not imagine NOT wanting everyone to know how great he is.” And Perry says what he admires most about Liz is her joy. “Liz has this warmth and happiness, a desire to care for people, she is a caregiver,” he says. “She is also a great mom, a great partner, she is kind and thoughtful, and helps balance me. We complement each other well.”
After decades of community involvement, the Warrens continue to give back through public service and volunteerism. Liz has served on the Newtown Swim Team Board, Newtown Borough Recreation Board, the Vestry of St. Luke’s, and is a member of the Newtown Rotary Club. Perry has served on the board and as Chairman of the Board of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, and as an officer of The Compassionate Friends, as well as the Young Entrepreneur’s Organization.
In 2009 while at the Newtown Library Gala with Liz, Perry was asked if he’d consider running for Newtown Borough Council. His grandfather and role model, Charles Roberts, was a community-involved attorney who served on Newtown’s Borough Council many years earlier, so it felt like an honor to be considered. Perry agreed to run and won the seat. “I liked being involved, knowing and understanding the issues that impact a community,” he explained. “I knocked doors, talked with everyone who would answer, and enjoyed listening and learning from my neighbors. I also had the flexibility to do the role right.”
Perry served on Newtown Borough Council from 2010 – 2016. In 2016, Perry ran for and was elected as PA State Representative for District 31 (Lower Makefield, Morrisville, Newtown Borough, Newtown Township, and Yardley) and was re-elected in 2018 in the legislative role where he currently serves. According to Liz, “Perry is a bridgebuilder. He has always looked for consensus and common ground to solve complex issues.” When asked about his role as a State Rep, Perry says, “as a legislator, you need a strong commitment to your community, to working hard, and to communication and collaboration with the people you serve. This means always listening to what folks are saying about their needs and objectives.”
Through his role as State Representative, in 2018 Perry supported the Donate Life PA Act which creates awareness about the importance of organ and tissue donation to increase the number of people who sign up to become organ donors. “My family is grateful for the compassionate support from Gift of Life when we were grieving the sudden loss of our son,” Perry said at the time. “While we were on the sad side of organ donation then, we are grateful for the additional gift of life that organ donation gives.”
Over the past two years, the Warrens became empty nesters. Seeing their children grow into adults and pursue their passions is a source of great joy to the couple. Charles (now 31) graduated from the University of Delaware. As a teenager, Charles followed in his dad’s footsteps and became the ice cream man. He met his wife, Kathryn, through the magic of that ice cream truck! Molly (27) graduated from Rutgers University and married her husband, Greg, in December of 2019. Rebecca (21) is a senior at the College of William and Mary, and Anna Belle (20) completed her sophomore year at Rollins College and is currently working on an organic farm in Hawaii as part of a work-study program.
After more than 30 years of owning the mobile ice cream business that brought Perry and Liz together, introduced Charles to his wife Kathryn, and was part of countless memories, the Warrens decided it was time to share the magic with a new family. And this act of kindness brings our story full circle.
Liz’s godson Will is the son of friends who live in Yardley and spend summers in Beach Haven. Will’s dad was with Perry the night he and Liz met. Will is 22 years old and has autism. His autism limits his ability to communicate and relate to people in a typical way. During the school year, he works in Perry Warren’s legislative office assembling information packets for constituents and enjoys accomplishing his work.
In 2015, the Warrens gifted Will a bicycle cart from their ice cream business and he began selling ice cream on the streets of Beach Haven in the evenings. According to his family, “Will rides the bike, greets customers, and asks what they would like. He also totals the order, collects the money, and thanks the customers. Will takes great pride in his work and enjoys interacting with his customers in a way that he rarely experiences.”
Will, known as ‘The Ice Cream Pedaler’ has become an institution in the shore town. Perhaps most gratifying, all tips he earns are donated to the AJ Foundation, a Bucks County-based non-profit which opened the Comprehensive Learning Center (CLC), one of PA’s first specialized private schools for children and adults with Autism. Their mission is to implement and support quality educational services and improve the lives of individuals with autism and their families within their communities. Some of Will’s tips have been extremely generous, with donations of $54, $87, even $100 from his customers.
The magic of the Warren family ice cream business continues in a new and meaningful way.
We appreciate the Warrens sharing their story.
To learn more about the organizations mentioned:
· AJ Foundation: ajfoundation.org
· Compassionate Friends: compassionatefriends.org
· Gift of Life: giftoflife.org