Anchorage invited to weigh in on how to memorialize John S. Parks
There’s a home in Fairview that Cal Williams holds in high regard. It’s a charming house on Latouche Street crafted by the hands of his late mentor, John S. Parks.
A carpenter by trade, Parks was a public servant by nature, says Williams.
“I remember one time the city honored him with a plaque of some sort,” Williams recalled. “And he held it up and said, ‘Yeah, this is nice, but my people can’t eat this.'”
Parks, born in Oklahoma on Jan. 7, 1907, moved to Alaska with his wife, Geneva, in 1951. Known as the “unofficial mayor of Fairview,” Parks pushed for civil rights, from the ballot box to the most basic needs of his community.
“He worked for all people, improving the lives in this Fairview area — got these streets paved, got lighting put in, did the first petition to create People Mover,” Williams said. “He knew the need for public transportation and pushed for that.”
Parks played a part in getting the people of Anchorage moving. People Mover began in the 1970s with what Williams recalls as “two little van buses, 12-passenger buses” and has transformed into a fleet of modern public transportation, traveling over 2 million miles a year throughout the municipality.
“Anchorage was built by a lot of great people, and John Parks was one of them,” said Mayor Ethan Berkorwitz. “When you look at the history of Anchorage, it was an amazing little patch-quilt of communities … John Parks helped integrate the city literally as well as in terms of social justice.”
Williams says Parks owed much of his political persuasion to his worldview.
“You don’t suck up to anybody, and you don’t look down on anybody — that was the way he was,” Williams explained. “He was the kind of guy who was though a carpenter, he fit in with people of high esteem and low regard as well.”
For years, people who knew Parks have been looking for a way to forever preserve his memory in Anchorage. Now, more than two decades after his death, they’ll get their chance.
“We are definitely going to name something after him,” said Berkowitz, who created a naming panel to spearhead the effort. “And we’re going to name something not just recognizing the man, but also recognizing the values he stood for.”
It’s what to name after Parks that lies in the hands of the community he served. Williams says he’d like to see the downtown transit center bear Parks’ name once the municipality follows through with its remodel plans.
“We want to make sure that everybody knows who John Parks was,” said Williams, who is head of the naming panel. “And that they themselves can be better just by emulating the work that he did.”
The John S. Parks naming panel meets Monday, Sept. 19, at 6 p.m. Everyone who knew Parks, or knew of him, is invited to come to the YWCA headquarters, located at 324 E. Fifth Ave., to weigh in.
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