Sadie Parker 1854 - 1924
By Joan C. McCulloh
What is important, though, is what a person does with her life between those dates, what the hyphen represents. From what we know Sadie Parker, born Sarah M. Parker, lived an enriched and enriching life during her sixty-nine years and three months. All the evidence shows that she was an uplifting force in both her career as a teacher for forty-seven years in the public schools of Mercersburg and in her many civic activities, especially those of the Woman’s Club, now known as the Women’s Club.
Born on December 8, 1854, the daughter of Caleb and Anna Armstrong Parker, she went to the public schools here and as a young woman in 1873 began to teach in the primary school and then in 1886 was promoted, as it was said in those benighted days in which people thought that teaching in a high school was more difficult or more prestigious than teaching in primary school, to become a high school teacher. By 1899 she was teaching algebra and English and was the assistant principal and remained in this position until the end of the academic year in 1920 when she stopped teaching.
When she retired in 1920, the local school board passed in her honor a long resolution which the Mercersburg Journal printed. Signed by H. S. Waidlich, the secretary of the school board, the resolution ends with the following paragraphs:
“Never in this long period was Miss Parker summoned before the School Board, never did she appear before it for any cause whatsoever, and never did she solicit personally the support of any member of the Board in the interest of her own election. Her work was her all sufficient recommendation. This history is so remarkable that it is worthy of permanent record.
“It is impossible adequately to appraise in words the life-work of a career such as this, Such value can only be expressed in terms of life and character. Hundreds upon hundreds of boys and girls, now grown to manhood and womanhood here in Mercersburg, or following elsewhere honorable careers, attest to the fidelity, constancy and dignity of the life and work of this noble woman. They remember her with appreciation and affection, and we are sure they will join with the School Board in sincere expressions of gratitude in wishing for her many happy years of retirement.”
She was not only respected but also, it seems, genuinely liked or loved. On Christmas morning in 1916 one of her former students brought to her house on North Main Street an envelope containing a certificate for $210, a stack of letters from former and present students, and a book containing the names of the five hundred students, past and present, who had contributed to the gift. In early January 1917 the following letter by Miss Parker was printed in the Mercersburg Journal:
“There are times in our lives when the heart is too full for utterance; these may be occasions of deep sorrow or of great joy; an experience of the latter was mine on Christmas morning, when a former pupil brought to me a package, on top of which was a letter; then with a ‘Merry Christmas, the letter will explain,’ she was gone.
“The letter was written by Mrs. [John] L. Finafrock, a former pupil, who had followed the kind impulse, that it would be a beautiful act for my former and present pupils to give me a Christmas gift. How beautifully, eagerly and lovingly my dear boys and girls worked! It is sweet to learn this.
“The letter contained the certificate of the amount of money, and the package contained letters expressing such tributes and testimonials as led me to feel and say I do not deserve this. I care not what the intrinsic worth of any “Christmas Gift” offered was, the most valuable cannot equal in real worth, what my dear boys and girls gave me. Such a gift as mine is inestimable.
“In the package there was also a book containing the record of the names of my pupils and of a number of friends who unsolicited had asked the privilege of sharing in the work. What that record means to me now and will mean!
“These dear pupils and friends have met me on a creed that has always been mine and that some have heard me give expression to, that is, the world would be a better world to live in, if we would speak the word of appreciation, and give the flowers, as we pass along the way, that we shall not pass again.
“Would that it were possible to meet all who shared in this work of love! As that cannot be, I hope this public recognition will reach a large number. I feel that the influence of this “Christmas Gift” will be far-reaching: it may do much to bring “Peace. Good Will to Men,” the Christmas message.
“May the “New Year” be the richest in all that makes our lives count for good; this the most beautiful act that has ever been carried out in the history of our people must help in bringing this about.
“Another very beautiful thing about this “Christmas Gift” is that contributions were made in memory of the dear boys and girls who have passed into the Great Beyond. Lovingly, Sadie M. Parker”
Outside of her classroom she was elected by her fellow teachers in Franklin County to become the secretary of the Franklin County Institute, the first woman to be elected to that post. She also served on the Committee of Permanent Certification in the county, a prestigious committee. When she stopped teaching in 1920, the school board stated that she had never given it any trouble.
In addition to her school work she was busy in other areas, especially in the Woman’s Club. When it was organized in 1909, she was one of the charter members. She at times spoke to the Woman’s Club; for instance, in 1911 she spoke on “Science and Education.” When there was a discussion of having a Y.M.C.A. in town, Miss Parker represented the Woman’s Club on the committee. In 1912 she became the fourth president of the club. In those days presidents served for only one year. When the Woman’s Club founded the Free Public Library in Mercersburg in 1913 and rented to be used as a library the second floor of the Scheller Building, now (2019) Stoners on the Square, on what was then called the Diamond she became the chair of the library committee or Library Commission, as it was called. Emphasizing that the library would be open to all, the commission sponsored a book fair to be held in Town Hall in order to obtain books for the library. The Woman’s Club opened the library on October 11, 1913, with the announcement that it would be open on both Saturday afternoons and evenings and Tuesday evenings.
At the December 1913 meeting of the Woman’s Club, according to the minutes, “Miss Parker gave a very encouraging report of the library, telling of the number of articles of furniture, shelving etc. donated by the townspeople books, magazines and money being contributed ….” Also at that meeting Miss Parker stated that 235 readers had been enrolled with “100 books out at once.“ On the first anniversary of the library in October 1914 Miss Parker reported that 5,558 books had been circulated during the library’s first year.
But it was not just the library that held her interest. In 1915 when the members of the Woman’s Club were planning to improve the appearance of the Diamond and to have a fountain installed, it was Miss Parker who made the motion to purchase the fountain. Always one to look to the future, in 1920 when the members of the Woman’s Club were talking about their newly won right to vote and were learning how to vote, Miss Parker, again according to the minutes, “told of the growth of civics in the high school and of the elections which were introduced by her own efforts and are now held regularly, by which our future citizens learn the intelligent use of the ballot.”
Miss Parker also taught in the Sunday School of St. John’s Lutheran Church and was one of the founders of Christian Endeavor in Franklin County.
In February 1929 the Mercersburg Public Library as it was now called, which was situated in the Fallon Building above Fallon’s Garage on West Seminary Street, to which it had moved in 1925, established the Sadie M. Parker Library Memorial Fund. The purpose of this fund, according to the Mercersburg Journal, was the purchase of children’s books in memory of Miss Parker, who the Journal noted: “is held in reverence by every Mercersburg boy or girl who has attended our schools, as at some time all pupils during her life came in contact with her influence.” The response was quick and generous, so that within a few weeks over $380 had been raised. The Journal each week printed the names of the contributors and printed at least two of the accompanying letters. One from a former classmate of Miss Parker, a man living in St. Joseph, Missouri, stated: “I am doing this in memory of so many favors shown me by Sadie Parker in helping to solve our deepest class problems.” A former student living in Dallas, Texas, wrote: “How well I remember Miss Sadie Parker, and other school teachers…under whom I received my early training and this occasion brings back sweet memories of the past to me.”
After her death at her home on North Main Street on May14, 1924, the Journal in a long front-page article entitled “Miss Sadie Parker, One of Franklin County’s Best Known Teachers” recounted her many accomplishments in both her school and community and noted that her death had taken from this community “one of the best known and most useful citizens.”
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