Shouts and Murmurs: Friend leaves; memories remain
This past week the community lost another friend when Earl Parsons died at his home Wednesday. We will miss his smiling face, his caring demeanor and his community spirit.
In his later years Parsons distinguished himself by his volunteerism -- helping out at the VFW Park (he wasn't a veteran), working at the Tonganoxie Historical Site and helping with church activities -- as well as his spirit of giving. He paid for a leadership lodge to be built at Rock Springs 4-H Ranch. He funded construction of a 4-H food stand at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds in exchange for a lifetime of free fair-time meals. He regularly donated to his church and other organizations.
It is commonly said and was noted Saturday in his eulogy that Parsons liked to be recognized for what he gave. At least two buildings, the leadership lodge and the 4-H stand, are named in his honor. His middle initial, "W," is included on the buildings because, as Bill Riley, president of the Kansas 4-H Foundation, wrote in a letter read at the funeral, there was another Earl Parsons in Kansas and Earl W. Parsons didn't want to be confused with him.
This year Parsons sponsored the 4-H calendar, which went out to thousands of youths throughout Kansas. 4-H'ers across the state wrote to thank him for his sponsorship. He proudly taped the cards and letters to his living room walls where he could see them every day.
Clearly, Parsons enjoyed seeing his name in print, whether it be on buildings, calendars, newspapers or letters.
But I wonder if it wasn't so much for the notoriety of the present that Parsons wanted the buildings named after him -- but also for the future.
I think that wanting to be remembered after death, wanting to remain somehow in the minds of others years after we're gone must be universal.
Parsons will be remembered by family and friends, but also by generations of youths who will see Parsons' name on the buildings he left behind. And, known to fewer, but just as important, he will also be remembered by students at Tonganoxie Elementary School where each year he volunteered to be a pen pal to a second-grader.
Second-grade teacher Sara Kettler phoned me this weekend saying she had received in her mailbox at school two days after Parsons' death, what is possibly the last letter he ever wrote. It was written to his second-grade pen pal, a boy he hadn't met, a child whose name he did not yet know, but a child with whom he planned to correspond throughout the school year.
Parsons' message to the youth filled both sides of a Christmas card. He told him of his own childhood, attending a one-room school, walking three-fourths of a mile to school, and having a teacher who rode seven miles on horseback to get to school.
He ended his letter by saying, "I hope Santa is good to you and I hope you are a good boy for school. I would like to tell you a bear story sometime."
Parsons left this world as we all do with stories yet to tell and friends yet to meet. Yet it's likely, because of his involvement in so many areas of civic life, because of the many lives he touched, young and old, Parsons long will be remembered.
In closing, it should be noted that, characteristic to the end, Parsons signed the letter to his pen pal by writing a name we now know so well: "Merry Christmas. From your friend, Mr. Earl W. Parsons."