Parker Garden at New Library Honors Former Teacher
A garden that will be open to the public but designed for those affected by memory loss is being donated to the Aurora Public Library through the library’s foundation by the family of Dr. M. Jack and Elaine Parker, formerly of Aurora.
Elaine Parker was a noted educator who was suffering from dementia when she died in June, 2012. Jack Parker, who died in March, 2012, was her husband for 60 years and took on the role of providing 24-hour care for Elaine in her later years so they could remain living independently in their home.
“As a culture, we’ve learned to accommodate physical disabilities with elements like curb ramps, elevators and text-to-speech capability on computers, but we can’t seem to bring ourselves to make environmental improvements to accommodate dementia,” said the couple’s elder son, J. Scott Parker of Portland, Oregon.
The Parker Garden, which will be located on the west side of the library (currently under construction on the southwest corner of River and Benton streets), will offer a safe haven for people with memory loss and their caregivers.
Aurora Public Library Board Member Walt Meinert enjoyed a more-than 40 year friendship with Jack and Elaine Parker. “I was delighted to learn the Parker family saw the new Aurora library as a way to express the dedication their parents had to both old and young in our community,” Meinert said.
Designed by landscape architect firm Quatrefoil, Inc., of Portland, the garden will have a single gated entry/exit with a pleasant signal (such as a chime) when the gate is opened. Other features of the garden will include thorn-free, nontoxic and easily replanted greenery and areas for caregivers to relax.
“In the late stages of her dementia, my mother could not put together a sentence, but it wasn’t hard to know what she did or didn’t like,” Scott Parker said. “She did not like constraint. Like anyone, she liked to be free to do what she wished. But she needed constraints for her own safety.”
The Parkers, including Scott and his wife, Ellen Vanderslice (of Portland, Oregon), and Calvin and his wife, Carey Shea (of New York, NY), are making a charitable gift of $100,000 to the Aurora Public Library Foundation to make the garden at the new Richard and Gina Santori Public Library of Aurora a reality. They also are providing a $40,000 challenge grant that will give the community an opportunity to participate in the construction of the garden. Naming opportunities for amenities such as benches, sculptures and water features are available.
In 1965, Elaine Parker began what would become a career spanning more than 25 years of teaching second grade at Nancy Hill Elementary School in District 129. She was named “Illinois Teacher of the Year” in 1983. Mrs. Parker also established the Near Northwest Neighbors Organization and the Robert William Memorial Swim Foundation, and served as the chair of the Aurora Housing Authority.
To honor her contributions to the city, Mayor David Stover declared May 1, 2003, as Elaine Parker Day.
Dr. and Mrs. Parker resided in Chicago beginning in 2008, where they were known for giving out books instead of candy on Halloween. Mrs. Parker served as a volunteer for the Chicago Children’s Museum, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Opera Theatre.
Dr. Parker was a university professor who was “always interested in social justice and racial equality,” Calvin Parker said, adding, “Both my parents were that way. They were both looking to make things better for people who got the short end of the stick.” The Parkers also were avid gardeners.
Dr. Parker began teaching at Northern Illinois University in 1965. Upon his retirement in 1998, he was Director of Forensics. He created NIU’s debate tournament, now known as the M. Jack Parker Parliamentary Debate Invitational. He also was a faculty member at the University of Vermont, Southern Illinois University and Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio.
Calvin Parker said both his parents were excellent teachers with different styles.
“I know my mother was the kind of teacher who could make all children believe they could do whatever they wanted to do. She definitely did that for my brother and me. She’s my mother, so you might expect me to say she was the nicest person in the world. But I think a bunch of other people without that biological connection would say the same thing too.
“My father was a brilliant man and a great teacher,” Calvin Parker continued. “He was one of those people who influenced people in important ways. He was that special professor that some kids really loved, and he was a big guiding force in their lives. At his funeral, many of his former students expressed how important he was to them. He was a true debater. I think he could have taken any side of any argument and beaten anyone – even if it wasn’t the side he favored.”
For information on making a donation to The Parker Garden, call Aurora Public Library Foundation Development Officer Laura Stoney at 630-264-4154.