Elon mourns passing of J. Rankin Parks III ’32

The university’s oldest living alumnus – who in October 2013 took part in Fall Convocation’s “Long Maroon Line” as a tribute to Elon’s 125th anniversary year – died Monday in his sleep in Durham, North Carolina.

<p>J. Rankin Parks '32 with his granddaughter, Elizabeth Fisher Goad '95, at Elon University's 2013 Fall Convocation.</p>
<p>J. Rankin Parks ’32 with his granddaughter, Elizabeth Fisher Goad ’95, at Elon University’s 2013 Fall Convocation.</p>
[/caption]J. Rankin Parks, one of Elon’s most loyal supporters over the past eight decades and the university’s oldest living alumnus, died peacefully in his sleep on Jan. 19, 2015, from complications following a fall. He was 105.

A Celebration of Life Service takes place Friday, Jan. 30, at 2 p.m. in Few Chapel at the Croasdaile Village (2600 Croasdaile Farm Parkway, Durham, NC) retirement community.

The North Carolina native was born on Dec. 9, 1909, and grew up in Greensboro. He attended Greensboro Senior High School, which is today Grimsley High School, before graduating from Elon in 1932.

Parks’ granddaughter, Elizabeth Fisher Goad ’95, also graduated from Elon, and their shared love of the university led both to take part in a special event commemorating the school’s 125th anniversary year.

On Oct. 3, 2013, Parks and Goad helped comprise the “Long Maroon Line,” a procession of 125 alumni representing every decade of living Elon graduates, during Fall Convocation with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Participants in the ceremony were selected by members of Elon’s faculty and staff based on their ongoing commitment and involvement with the university.

Parks received a standing ovation and was recognized for his loyalty by Elon President Leo M. Lambert. “I’m surprised at the growth,” Parks said that day, reflecting on the transformation of the campus since his collegiate studies. “I’m quite proud of Elon and the way it turned out.”

Parks had been a longtime supporter of his alma mater through the creation of the Rena Cole and J. Rankin Parks ’32 Endowed Scholarship, a fund he and his wife established to support students with financial needs.

In recent years, Parks earned the nickname “Birdman of Croasdaile Village” due to his hobby of carving wooden birds. One of his granddaughter’s greatest treasures is a Carolina Wren that Parks carved from the wood of oak trees that fell at Elon during the late 1980s.

“Elon was one of our biggest connections and brought an incredible amount of joy to our lives,” Goad said.

The family asks that memorial gifts be made to the Rena Cole and J. Rankin Parks Endowed Scholarship at Elon University in the Office of University Advancement (2600 Campus Box, Elon, NC 27244).


DURHAM, NC – Jacob Rankin Parks III, 105, one of North Carolina’s oldest native sons and Elon University’s oldest alumnus, died peacefully Monday, January 19, 2015, from complications following a fall two weeks ago.

Parks, a resident of the Croasdaile Village retirement community in Durham, celebrated his 105th birthday in remarkably good health and high spirits last Dec. 9 but had been in declining health since the Christmas holiday.

A Celebration of Life will be Friday, January 30, 2:00 pm, at Few Chapel, Croasdaile Village, 2600 Croasdaile Farm Parkway, Durham, NC. Parks willed his body to Duke University’s Anatomical Gifts program.

Parks, who spent his entire working years with the Railway Express Agency, was born on Dec. 9, 1909, in Asheboro but grew up in Greensboro in the family home that still stands at the corner of Scott Street and Walker Avenue. He attended Greensboro Senior High School (Grimsley) and graduated from Elon in 1932.

He was particularly proud of his affiliation with Elon and just a year ago attended their Founder’s Day celebration with his grand-daughter, Elizabeth Fisher Goad, herself an Elon graduate. His great nephew and namesake, Jacob Smallwood-Garcia, also attended Elon, as did Parks’s mother, the late Lela Moffitt Parks.

Parks spent more than three decades with what later became REA Express, and over the years was based in Washington, DC, Concord, Burlington, Charlotte and Greensboro. An avid outdoorsman all his life, upon retirement he moved to a cottage with a substantial garden spot at Fisherman’s Cove on the banks of High Rock Lake near Spencer. He only fished on days ending in “y”.

He and his wife of 57 years, the late Rena Cole Parks, later moved to the Methodist Retirement Community of Durham (now Croasdaile), where he acquired the nickname of the “Birdman of Croasdaile Village” because of his prolific carving of birds of all species. His carved birds now adorn homes of countless relatives and friends and are featured in a hardback book of pictures produced by his son-in-law, Hugh Fisher.

When he wasn’t fishing or hunting (he is said to have stopped his car on his honeymoon to shoot a hawk in a nearby tree), his leisure time was spent traveling the world with his wife. Together they visited every continent except Antarctica and all 50 states.

He is survived by daughter Serena Parks Fisher (Hugh Fisher) of Winter Springs, FL; grand-daughter Elizabeth Fisher Goad (Dean Goad) of Okinawa; and brother-in-law Irwin Smallwood of Greensboro.

Parks also was predeceased by a sister, Allene Parks Smallwood of Greensboro, and his late father was Jacob Rankin Parks Jr., like his son a veteran of Railway Express. Parks was a member of Duke Memorial Methodist Church of Durham and the oldest living former member of Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro.

Memorial gifts may be made to the Rena Cole and J. Rankin Parks Endowed Scholarship at Elon University, Office of University Advancement, 2600 Campus Box, Elon. NC 27244.