Boxwell Greats: Tom Parker
Ask a 1960s Stahlman Staff member about campfires in their run and one name will always come up: Tom Parker. A teacher from Sparta during his regular life, Tom Parker came to “new” Boxwell as the Conservation Director. Remembered fondly by Program Directors Jimmy Joe Jackson and Chester LeFever, Parker was one of those adults who came to camp staff who really cared about teaching and the program.
As a conservation man, Parker was dedicated to his merit badges. Every week at the Sunday Scoutmasters’ Roundtable, he would announce that anyone wanting to take Bird Study merit badge should meet him at the flag pole at 5:30 a.m. the next morning. He would always follow with a show of hands of who had Scout who would be interested. Almost like the punchline to a joke, no one showed up, despite the hands. Parker was genuinely frustrated when no one showed up.
For those who did take Parker’s merit badges, they were in for a treat, as the man was dedicated. Every summer, he brought a literal truckload of biology samples to camp: baby pigs, birds, and various other animals in formaldehyde. He expected his Scouts to read the merit badge pamphlet and to understand conservation. Decades later, former student Russ Parham still remembered Parker’s definition of conservation: “Conservation is the wise and efficient use of our natural resources, so that they be of the greatest use for the largest amount of people for the longest amount of time.”
Of course, even today, you can still see Parker’s influence on Boxwell. He was the man responsible for planting the kudzu on the dirt embankments on Highway 109.
But his musical talents are what everyone remembered. That same person you asked about the campfires will tell you they remember Parker singing “Old Man River” or “Shadrach Meshach and Abednego.” The sound of Parker’s deep voice carrying across Old Hickory Lake apparently left an indelible impression on everyone who heard it. And sadly, no known recording exists.
Parker’s tenure became more sporadic in the 1970s. He moved beyond the Con-Yard and double as the camp medic in these years. One final, truly amazing story about Parker. While cutting tree limbs with a chain saw one day, a branch popped back, knocking the chain saw into his throat. Parker kept his cool and grabbed a handkerchief, holding it against the neck wound. He then drove himself to the hospital and refused to remove the handkerchief until a surgical team was ready. He missed a few years at Boxwell after this, but in the late ’70’s he returned… and sang “Old Man River” once more!
Tom Parker at a campfire, ca. 1971