Joliet athletic community remembers a true friend
By Dick Goss email@example.com September 15, 2013 9:48PM
Updated: October 17, 2013 6:23AM
When former Joliet Junior College wrestling coach Henry Pillard, a member of the Joliet Area Sports Hall of Fame, last saw his longtime friend Ken Parker in the hospital, he told him:
“Ken, as far as my life is concerned, you were the best.”
Parker, the former Joliet Township basketball coach and Joliet Central and Joliet Junior College athletic director, died Saturday at age 92.
Sentiments similar to Pillard’s are being expressed throughout the Joliet area.
Former longtime Joliet Township and Joliet West basketball coach Mike O’Connell said when he was a student-athlete at JJC, he was in Parker’s renowned physical education program.
“I wish I had a list of all the guys who went through that program and became excellent coaches in the area,” O’Connell said. “Ken was the one behind it and it did more for future coaches than a four-year program.
“What a professional and teacher. He really cared about kids, and I don’t know that I ever saw him mad.”
O’Connell’s dad, former Joliet East basketball coach Dale O’Connell Sr., died in 1971, when Mike was at JJC.
“My father and my wife’s grandfather had just passed away and Ken took care of me,” O’Connell said. “He had me working in the athletic office, carrying towels to and from practice.”
Joliet Township Athletic Booster Club president Glen Marcum, who co-chairs the annual JT Night of Champions, said honoring Parker at the first banquet was a no-brainer.
“Not only was he deserving,” Marcum said, “but the banquet took off so well because so many people wanted to be there just to see him. Everyone lit up when they got a chance to visit with him, and he always remembered everyone.
“What a class guy. He loved Joliet sports. He appreciated the quality of sports and the work ethic of people here. It wasn’t always the star athlete he wanted to talk about.”
Parker was a member of the University of Illinois “Whiz Kids” basketball team of the early 1940s. He arrived at Joliet Township in 1949 and was head basketball coach there beginning in 1950.
Pillard had been coaching wrestling and football at Blue Island Eisenhower when Parker convinced him to apply for the wrestling job at JJC.
“I don’t think I ever would have come to Joliet had he not been the AD,” Pillard said.
“He was the AD at Joliet Central right after the school split in 1964 (into East, West and Central) and the AD at JJC at the same time for years. It was a huge job, and for the programs to grow the way they did, that was enormous.”
Despite the double duty, however, Pilllard said Parker “made it a pleasure to come to work every day.”
Pillard knew former longtime Notre Dame athletic director Moose Krause well.
“He and Ken Parker reminded me of each other,” he said. “Moose asked me once if I wanted to interview at Notre Dame and I told him I can’t leave Joliet.
“That was because of Ken Parker. He was the glue.”
Pillard said Parker, who never forgot a name or face and encouraged everyone in his department to try do the same, would have been equally successful in arenas outside athletics.
“Imagine the fortune he could have made as a salesman,” Pillard said. “He was the magnet that only attracted, didn’t repel. He was the great attracter. His formula for success should have been patented.
“I don’t know than any shoes in Joliet have ever been bigger to fill. Ken was uniquely special.”