Presented by Betty Suddarth
Given at Rotary Club September 13, 2011
Nelson Parkhurst, who most of us knew as Parkie, died August 24 after a full and inspiring life. He would have been 98 in January. Most of those 97 plus years were spent in West Lafayette. He joined the Lafayette Rotary Club 55 years ago in 1956 and was the president of the club 46 years ago in 1965-66. He was an active member and only stopped coming to meetings a few years ago when his health no longer permitted it.
Parkie was born in Johnson County on a farm near Trafalgar, which he said the natives always pronounced as Traf o gar. His mother died when he was five and his father and older brother raised him until his father remarried. At his memorial service his son, Roger, indicated it was his step-mother who instilled in him the importance of education which he treasured all his life. In order to attend Purdue, Parkie worked in food services in the Purdue Union, rising to a management position while in school. He received a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture in 1938 and a Master of Science in 1943. He served in the army from 1943 to 1945.
In 1946 he was hired by the registrar and director of admissions, Clarence Dammon, as the assistant registrar. Another future Rotarian, Harland White, was hired as the assistant director of admissions at the same time. He and Harland became life-long friends.
At this time, right after WWII, housing on college campuses was almost impossible to find. Harland and Parkie and their wives shared the house at the Hills until they could find housing. Parkie always described it as a little like camping out.
A significant set of events for those of you in the room who were considering higher education at this time involved the assistance for returning servicemen. The federal legislation, commonly known as the GI bill was passed and provided opportunities for many more people to attend college. The administration and logistics of this operation were staggering. Parkie was heavily involved in many of the solutions, both locally, and eventually nationally with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.
One of his tasks was to estimate future enrollment for Purdue which he did extremely well. He convinced the president of Purdue, Fred Hovde, and other Indiana College and University Presidents to do these projections for many years in the future for the entire state. This is how I first met Parkie. I was hired in 1955 to work with Parkie and conduct this study. The results showed how much enrollments were likely to increase for the next twenty years and were used by many schools for planning courses, buildings and other physical facilities needs.
Parkie was very innovative and recognized that record keepers needed to take advantage of computers. Under his leadership, Purdue was one of the first institutions to computerize the entire academic record so transcripts could be produced easily. He was also in the forefront of developing computerized grade reporting, registration and scheduling.
In his role as registrar, Parkie was appointed as the chair of the commencement committee which involved all the logistics of a traditional, formal commencement. It is a major undertaking. Purdue is one of the few schools that hands each student the diploma during the commencement ceremony. Parkie was very proud of the ceremony and rightly so.
In addition to these activities, Parkie was appointed as the secretary of the faculties in 1956. This in and of itself was a full time job. Parkie realized very early that the policies and procedures, for example executive memoranda, were in dire need of codification. He took it upon himself to put all those records in proper order, taking a brief case home nearly every night to work on it. It was a monumental task but very successful and, I hope, is still being used today.
Parkie was the consummate professional serving his institution, the state and the nation. Along with this, he was a caring family man, an active participant in his church and in his community. He was a long-time member of the Federated Church and a volunteer with the Sagamore Council of the Boy Scouts as well as active in several Purdue student organizations. He was calm and patient and, in all the years I knew him, I never heard him raise his voice or saw him appear to be stressed. A truly amazing feat considering all the pressures he had.
I do remember one time when I went to a meeting at IU-Kokomo with him. Parkie was a heavy pipe smoker and, at times, he would shove his pipe in his hip pocket as he went to a meeting or other place where he couldn't have the pipe. We were heading into the meeting and, all of a sudden, I saw smoke curling out of his hip pocket. He got it out but I'm sure Annie Laurie had some mending to do. Mauri Williamson and I were reminiscing about this the other day and I learned that Mauri was a heavy pipe smoker too. I understand that between the two of them a lot of pants were patched.
When Parkie retired, the office sponsored a retirement party for him. We had skits of commencement, registration, picking up golf balls across the street from his house, and other reminiscences. His son, Bruce, played the part of a student with a broken leg who needed to drop a course past the deadline. The registrar, supposedly Parkie, refused the request even as Bruce was saying, " .but Dad!" It was all in great fun as Parkie was always helpful to students.
At his memorial service, Gary Reif pointed out that Parkie kept the faith, followed the Boy Scout motto to be prepared, and practiced the rotary test of service above self. I say Amen to that.