Monthly Archives: April 2010

Dover cleanup honors Joe Parks, city’s green spaces

Sunday, April 25, 2010

DOVER — Joe Parks’ legacy lived on Saturday as hundreds of volunteers spruced up the downtown green spaces he spent years preserving.

The 11th annual Dover Pride Cleanup Day was the first not to feature Parks, who died last month at the age of 94.

He was nationally renowned for his rhododendrons, which he planted all over the city — including in the park named in his honor, the Joe B. Parks River Walk Public Gardens near Orchard Street.

The spirit of volunteerism he helped instill in the community — especially its youth — was very much alive Saturday.

Dover High School varsity girls’ soccer team members Casey Murphy, Courtney Williams, and Lauren Morrison were some of the roughly 200 people who participated in the cleanup.

“It’s meaningful,” said Morrison. “It’s sad he’s not here.”

The trio met Parks in the fall of 2009 at the river walk gardens when their team volunteered to clean it up.

They said he was patient teaching them how to care for the plants and appreciative they were volunteering in the first place.

Their coach, Connie Roy, said the team was awestruck seeing Parks — at more than 90 years old — digging up soil and raking leaves.

“That inspired them,” Ray said.

Volunteers on Saturday worked on 13 green spaces, removing branches, painting benches and maintaining plants.

The Kiwanis Club provided a pancake breakfast, Starbucks and Poland Spring donated refreshments, and Kendall Pond Pizza chipped in with lunch. Dover Main Street organized the event.

Local Girls Scouts got in on the act as well.

Lisa Glover’s young troop members from Dover helped out for their community service badge.

“It feels awesome!” said 9-year-old Liberty Streeter, who was busy spreading mulch at Henry Law Park.

Glover said it was a good experience for the girls.

“When they walk by the park, they can say, ‘I’m the one who did that. I’m the one who cleaned it up,'” she said.

It’s all part of a promise to honor Parks’ legacy, according to organizer Britt Ulinski Schuman.

“We’ll keep (the green spaces) looking good,” she said.

Joe B Parks Obituary


DOVER — Inventor, sculptor, horticulturalist, computer pioneer, soldier, legislator, train buff, consultant, teacher, preacher’s kid, philanthropist, entrepreneur, woodworker, bibliophile, real estate investor, Arctic traveler, class president, husband, father, and Pop-pop are only some of the titles which could be used for Joe B. Parks. Interested in almost anything and an expert in many things, he lived an amazingly full and happy life. He died Wednesday at the age of 94.

A steward of the environment, he promoted conservation, was a tree farmer, and received an award from the Sierra Club for distinguished environmental service as a legislator. Afflicted early with a disease called “gardening,” he spent years working with plants, studying, propagating, and hybridizing them.

At the age of 90, 10 years after receiving a cancer diagnosis, he traveled to the Arctic to investigate heat capture in high-Arctic flowering plants. He developed and registered more than 20 new azaleas and rhododendrons. He loved nothing more than sharing his gardens and his knowledge with other plant-lovers, teaching gardening courses for the Dover Adult Learning Center, designing and installing a Japanese garden with students from Dover High, writing a gardening column for Foster’s Daily Democrat, conducting plant-by-plant tours of his gardens, and serving as auctioneer at the annual Durham Garden Club plant sale.

He served as President of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society and was a founding member of the Maine Coastal Botanical Garden. He was honored by the City of Dover in 2008 with the dedication of the Joe B. Parks Riverwalk Garden and by the American Rhododendron Society in 2005 with the Silver Medal. Many of his rhododendrons will be maintained at the University of Southern Maine Arboretum in Gorham, Maine.

A talented artist and creative person in many other areas, he sculpted in clay, bronze, and granite, carved and printed multicolor woodblocks, and used his woodworking skills to build everything from tiny jewel boxes to intricate dollhouses to custom furniture. He was always inventing minor domestic improvements, including a hands-free door opener, a bird feeder squirrel deterrent, and a “better mouse trap” that he tried to patent. He was a bibliophile who collected and preserved all kinds of books, treasured his status as a proprietor of the Portsmouth Athenaeum, and spent the last several years finalizing his memoirs for publication.

Joe was born in McAlester, Okla., on Dec. 17, 1915, son of the Rev. James A.T. and Florence Youngblood Parks and brother of Mary Parks White. He was extremely proud of his Cherokee grandparents who had come to Indian Territory over the Trail of Tears. He graduated from Oklahoma A. & M. College (now Oklahoma State University) in 1939 with a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration.

While at A&M he began his lifelong work with computing machines. Joe moved to Washington, D.C., after his graduation and soon met his future wife, Florence Evans, whom he married in 1941. They were happily married for 58 years until her death in 1999.

Recruited by IBM as part of the Lend-Lease war effort, Joe received a commission from the Army shortly after Pearl Harbor. He served in the medical corps in England and France as a supply officer and was one of only a handful of headquarters soldiers to be awarded the Bronze Star. After the war, Joe began a career in public service, beginning with the Veterans’ Administration and culminating in his retirement as a Deputy Director at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. In addition to his government work, he was a managing director for RCA and a marketing director at Booz Allen Hamilton.

After his retirement, Joe and Florence moved to Dover, N.H. to be near their daughter, Kathryn and her family. Joe and Florence believed that service to one’s community was a basic responsibility and were engaged in their communities throughout their lives.

In Dover, Joe immediately became an active member of the First Parish Church of Dover, serving as both a deacon and a warden, offered his services to the city of Dover as a computer consultant, became active in the Republican Party, serving as Chairperson of the Strafford County Republicans, and was a corporator of Wentworth-Douglass Hospital.

In 1984, he first ran for a seat in the New Hampshire legislature, conducting a door-to-door campaign from his bicycle, and ultimately served four terms. He was named a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow in 1998 in recognition of his service to his community.

Joe leaves his daughter, Anne Parks-Goss and her husband, Vladimir, of Hillsborough, N. C., granddaughter, Christine Goss of Lewisburg, W.Va.; his daughter, Kathryn Forbes of Dover, granddaughter, Moira Forbes and her husband, Jared Hughes of Arlington, Va., grandson, Kenneth Forbes and his wife, Connie, of Stowe, Vt., granddaughter, Megan Forbes and her husband, Richard Brown of Brooklyn, N.Y., four great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and his beloved poodle, Buzz.

A celebration of his life will be held at the First Parish Church, Congregational, Dover, N.H. on Saturday, April 10, at 10 a.m. Calling hours will be Friday, April 9, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Wiggin Purdy Funeral Home in Dover. Family flowers only.

Memorial donations may be made to the Dover Adult Learning Center of Strafford County, or to the City of Dover Joe B. Parks Riverwalk Garden.

Visit the online guest book.
Published in Fosters from April 2 to April 4, 2010

Noted for his rhododendrons, volunteerism, Dover’s Joe Parks dies at 94

Friday, April 2, 2010

DOVER — Joe Parks once said that he lived by the philosophy of his father, a minister.

“The world doesn’t owe you anything, you owe it,” Parks said.

Even in his last days, Parks was living that philosophy, even traveling by ambulance just to meet with representatives from the University of Southern Maine Arboretum to finalize plans to donate some of his famous rhododendrons.

“Both he and my mother felt very, very strongly that we weren’t just put here to sit around and do nothing,” said Kathryn Forbes, Parks’ daughter. “All of us were meant to make this a better place for everyone, not just ourselves.”

Parks died Wednesday night at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital at the age of 94.

It seems nearly all the major landmarks in the city have been touched by Parks — Henry Law Park, Garrison Hill, the Woodman Institute and several others all appear the way they do today because Joe Parks had something to do with it.

And most recently — in 2007 — Parks took the lead in a beautification project that transformed a long-neglected section of the downtown riverfront into a community garden dedicated in his honor.

He was more than just the namesake for the Joe B. Parks Riverwalk and Gardens, something that doesn’t surprise anybody that knew him.

“The idea was to bring a few rhododendrons onto the riverwalk,” said Beth Fischer, who coordinated the project for Dover Main Street. “It was nothing like it turned into.”

It started with Parks agreeing to transfer a variety of plants from his own backyard gardens. Then Parks agreed to help design the riverwalk. Soon, he was at the garden every weekend, digging holes, spreading mulch and instructing volunteers about how to plant and care for his prized plants.

“I would mention to people ‘If you see an older guy around with light hair and two dogs, that’s just Joe.’,” Fischer said.

The Joe B. Parks garden is easy to point to as Parks’ legacy in the city, and it is. But Fischer said his legacy created by the park is much more than a name, or a plant or a bench that wasn’t there before.

For nearly two years, Parks personally worked with Heather Fabbri’s horticulture class at Dover High School’s Career Technical Center as they designed and planted a Japanese garden on the riverwalk. First he judged several models presented by students. And when the first shovels hit the ground, Parks was there — with a car full of doughnuts for the students — to guide the class through the process.

“He understood some of the kids were not ones that were going to go on to be Rhodes Scholars, but there were things they could accomplish,” Fischer said.

It was that extra effort, to use his skills to shape the next generation, that Mayor Scott Myers said he always admired most about Parks.

“That was the greatest gift he gave to the city,” Myers said.

Since moving to New Hampshire in the early 1970s, Parks became known for his ability to hybridize warm weather and fragile plants, notably rhododendrons, to both sustain the New England environment and resist insects. He served as president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Rhododendron Society from 1994 to 1996 and received the silver medal award from the organization in 2006. Parks was also asked to register his garden with the Smithsonian Institution.

Although he is well known for his work in horticulture, Parks never took a single course in the subject and has worked most of his life in business and real estate, managing property and restoring houses around Dover. But the hobby was a part of his life since he was a child, drawing inspiration from a family farm in Oklahoma.

Parks began hybridizing plants while living in Virginia during the middle of the century, but his work picked up pace after moving to Dover. He began work on his garden, nestled among what was then dense forest, before construction on his Long Hill Road home was completed. The well-planned garden since expanded to a series of small gardens connected by a winding pathway.

That garden and the joining woods is where Moira Forbes, Parks’ granddaughter, spent much of her childhood and inspired her so much she wrote a story as a first-grader called “My Granddad’s Woods.”

“We were always doing things over there,” the now 36-year-old Forbes said. “He was always saying ‘Let’s go to the greenhouse, let’s plant something, let’s make something out of wood, let’s go catch a snake.’ I didn’t’ realize until I was older that most people’s grandparents weren’t as active. That always seemed normal to us that people’s grandparents ran around and did things every day.”

Parks was always busy, and it wasn’t just limited to gardening, Kathryn Forbes said. He spent much of his career working in data management and computing after attending what is now Oklahoma State University when researchers at that school development a computerized registration system using punch cards — in the 1930s.

He later went on to sell computers for RCA for several years.

“He’s been a computer user for 70 years or something,” Forbes said. “There couldn’t be many people like that around.”

Most recently, Parks discovered that he could use magnets to help ease some of his arthritis pain and could often be seen going about his day with bandage covered magnets attached all around his body. But Parks wasn’t content with just accepting that it helped. Instead, he began pouring over medical research about the theory and even said he wanted to find a way to start a trial to scientifically test his theory.

“Everything that came along interested him,” Forbes said.

And he wanted to explore it all, she said.

“He didn’t plan to grow old,” Forbes said.

The thing about Parks’ wide array of interests is that it allowed him to be something different to everybody he met — horticulturist, volunteer, teacher, writer, sculptor, Army major, state legislator, entrepreneur.

“He was a lot of things to a lot of people,” Forbes said. “The most important thing to me was he was my dad.”