Viola Mills Parker died peacefully on Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, at age 92. She was born in Woodburn, Ore., on May 19, 1922, to Paul A. Mills and Ina Viola Wallen Mills. Paul and Ina both grew up around Newberg in the Friends community. Viola’s sister, Dorothy, had died in infancy a few years earlier. Their family grew to include Rodney and John. Paul first owned a sawmill before he became Woodburn’s longtime postmaster. Ina was employed by the Berry Growers’ Association as bookkeeper.
Viola surrounded herself with easy friendships that she kept forever. Her natural, comedic nature, sharp wit and intelligence were attractive to everyone. Her childhood was small-town and cozy; she said that even the Great Depression barely touched her protected life. She and friends spent hours planning and putting on dramatic presentations in the basement for neighborhood kids. Throughout high school she performed dramatic and comedic readings and always enjoyed a spotlight to perform under.
She dated and then married, in 1941, Ivan Clare Parker, a Woodburn boy who could match her intelligence and wit. Ivan worked his way out of his impoverished beginnings through education. They lived in the Eugene area while Ivan finished his undergraduate work and their first child was born. Employment took them to other Oregon towns, but during Ivan’s summertime graduate studies, Viola returned to Woodburn with her growing family. Later, she winced recalling how she would happily expect her mother to take on the extra care of her children. The older kids recall happy summers there.
Viola cherished reading, her favorite activity, and she managed to do a lot of it. In her later years she began re-reading her favorite novelists. She didn’t value material wealth much, but had a weakness for collecting books.
In 1952, the family moved to Hood River, Ore., where Ivan was principal of Wy’east High School, for six years. During this period the sixth, seventh and eighth children were born.
A crucial milestone in Viola’s life was around 1953 when Ivan decided to return to the Catholic church that he’d attended sporadically as a teen. Viola began a serious study of the church and found that it suited her spiritual needs and beliefs perfectly. The whole family then became Sunday Mass attendees. Viola was a steadfast Catholic throughout the rest of her life and loved nothing so well as a bracing theological discussion, unless it was a political discussion.
For two years, Ivan left the family in Hood River to begin a Ph.D. program at Stanford University. Viola learned to garden, she also canned, made butter, and planned birthday parties and holiday celebrations. She oversaw family church rituals and children, caring for chickens, a pig and a cow. Her ninth child was born while her husband was away.
The family reunited in Arcata, Calif., where Ivan became superintendent of the high school. With Viola and Ivan’s 10th child on the way, the family learned that Ivan had melanoma cancer. For the next year, Viola cared for her rapidly declining husband at home while trying to provide a normal life for the family. Ivan died at home five months after the baby was born. Viola was 39 years old.
After Ivan’s death, the family moved to Salem to be near Viola’s parents. The two oldest children had moved out, so she and only eight children settled into a big white farm house on Herrin Road that they all remember and love. With her strong belief in the value of education, Viola provided a home kindergarten for her youngest child and his neighborhood friends. Later, she was employed by the school district as an instructional aide. She worked for a number of years as a meal sites director for Senior Services in Salem. She managed to survive the turbulence of the ‘60s while raising teenagers; those were challenging times. Gradually her children left for marriage or college. She was always delighted with the number of college degrees in her family. She loved her children deeply, but never blindly, and could always offer a corrective suggestion or two.
When the last child left, she moved into a smaller house in northeast Salem, continuing to host boisterous holiday family gatherings for a number of years. Her church, St. Vincent de Paul in Salem, was her focus, with effort going to the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s service to those in need.
Aging, she agreed to move in with her son Peter and daughter-in-law Connie Parker, near Shaw, Ore. She lived with them for two years until her 90th birthday when she moved to assisted living on Marian Estates, where Connie continued to be her keen advocate.
This remarkable woman, Viola, often expressed her sincere gratitude and appreciation for the life she was given. She leaves her brother, Rodney A. Mills (Norma), Earlysville, Va., and nine children. Her daughter Constance Jane died in 1983 and her brother John in 2004.
Survivors include: Mary Martha Carr (Jamie), Corvallis, Ore., Susan Miranda (Gilbert), Los Alamos, N.M., Richard I. Parker (Yupadee), Rancho Cordova, Calif., Peter B. Parker (Connie), Shaw, Ore., Robert J. Parker (Angie), Rolla, Mo., Kathleen J. Beale (Douglas), Terrebonne, Ore., Joseph P. Parker (Thotsaporn), Sacramento, Calif., Elizabeth C. Grimm (Jason), Sacramento, Calif., and Daniel M. Parker (Nancy), Chatsworth, Calif. There are 24 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren.
The family thanks the staff at McKillop residence at Marian Estates and especially Hospice Care of the Northwest for Lisa and Brandy’s excellent, loving care. Viola had five sons and five daughters, but a debt of gratitude can never be paid to Connie Parker, a daughter of her heart.
A funeral mass is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 6, at noon at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Salem. A luncheon will follow. Burial will be at 3 p.m. at St. Luke’s Cemetery in Woodburn.
Viola wished any memorial contributions to be sent to St. Vincent de Paul Conference, 1025 Columbia St. N.E., Salem, OR 97303, or to the St. Vincent de Paul Rehab. Service Inc., 4867 N.E. Martin Luther King Blvd., Portland, OR 97211. Assisting the family is Virgil T. Golden Funeral Service.
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