Large crowd mourns ‘Whiz Kid,’ legendary coach, at funeral
By Dick Goss email@example.com September 19, 2013 8:12PM
Pallbearers carry the casket of Kenneth P. Parker Sr. into St. Paul the Apostle Church in Joliet on Thursday, Sep. 19, 2013. | Mike Mantucca~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 21, 2013 2:28PM
The Parker Family Mission Statement was printed on the back of the program at Kenneth Parker’s funeral Mass on Thursday at St. Paul’s Church.
P for positive attitude; A — all your effort, all the time; R — remain humble; K — keep building others up; E — everything happens for a reason; R — reach out to serve others.
The large crowd gathered for the funeral saw much of Parker’s essence in those six items. The former Joliet Township basketball coach and Joliet Central and Joliet Junior College athletic director died Saturday at age 92, one day short of his 68th anniversary with his wife, Myrita, but not before leaving a lasting mark on so many inside and outside the Joliet sports community.
During Wednesday’s visitation and the funeral ceremonies Thursday, relatives and friends discussed the way Parker loved to tease, how he remembered everyone even if he hadn’t seen them in 30 or more years, how he always looked a person in the eye and made him or her feel important, what a great coach and friend he was, and his humility.
For all he accomplished, including playing basketball for the legendary University of Illinois “Whiz Kids,” he never made himself the center of attention.
When the Mass ended and the funeral procession advanced to Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, the mission statement took on even deeper meaning.
Carson Parker, a senior at Dyke-New Hartford High School in Iowa, and Elli Parker, a junior at Wartburg College, are the two children of Ken and Myrita’s youngest son, Mark, and his wife, Susan. The Rev. Jim Lennon, who said the funeral Mass, invited Carson and Elli to speak at the cemetery.
Difficult though it was through the tears, they explained how, with the help of their parents, they developed the family mission statement about a year ago. They said the impetus came from their grandparents, the way Ken and Myrita have led their lives.
Mark Parker, in fact, made a point of thanking his mother. “You are a very special woman,” he said. “You two had 68 great years together.”
There were few dry eyes under the tent at the cemetery while Carson and Elli read the mission statement.
But sadness did not win. Kent Parker, Mark’s oldest brother, said how he thought Wednesday “would be sad, but it wasn’t. Thanks to all the friends who came to pay their respects, and the stories they told, it was very uplifting.”
So was Lennon’s sermon Thursday.
“Ken’s great love was to be with people,” he said. “He was always encouraging others. It wasn’t always to be the best athlete, but young men were encouraged to be the best they could be in hwatever they did because they knew him.
“All of us need someone to affirm us. We all need affection. Ken in his life tried to do that.”
He did it for everyone, no strings attached.
The influence he and Myrita — and their children Kent, Dave, Myrita and Mark — had on the development of the Parker Family Mission Statement is evident.
That the world continues to feel Ken’s presence after he is gone is a fitting final tribute to his legacy.