From her earliest days as a PTA mom at Dickinson School, Karla Parker was committed to public education. Her ideas went beyond the basics. She believed well-rounded students needed access to programs in psychology, sociology, and economics, and she was especially supportive of recreational activities, swimming in particular.
When the Grand Rapids Public Education Board was founded in 1938, Parker became its secretary, a post she held until 1965. During this time, she was a vocal proponent of youth swimming programs and pool construction, so much so that the Ottawa Hills High School pool, just one of the projects she promoted, was named Karla V. Parker Natatorium in 1972. But this was just one example of her advocacy.
Parker was active in promoting educational opportunity her entire adult life. She was president of the Michigan PTA, the National PTA, and a U.S. representative to international education conferences. She served as president of the National Camp Fire Girls, and the Michigan Adult Education Commission. Parker provided expertise for Michigan Governor George Romney's Blue Ribbon Committee on Higher Education, was a member of president Dwight D. Eisenhower's Committee on Youth Fitness, and a participant in the White House Conference on Children and Youth. She also found time to take on free-lance writing jobs for such well-known publications as The Christian Science Monitor and Better Homes and Gardens.
Parker’s work was noticed outside of Grand Rapids as well. She was named an honorary citizen of Jackson, MS, the state of Florida, and honorary mayor of the city that later became San Antonio, TX. She was presented keys to numerous cities in the continental U.S., as well as Anchorage, AK and Hilo, HI, and was listed in Who's Who in America from 1946 on.
Karla Parker moved to Kalamazoo, MI later in life and died there at the age of 91 in 1986. There are still many in the community who remember her tireless work on public education's behalf.
Sources: Bernice Mancewicz, Grand Rapids Press, October 6, 1970; Grand Rapids Press, September 25, 1966; Grand Rapids Press, April 1, 1986
Image: Grand Valley State University Special Collections & University Archives