Parks' perseverance inspires others

(08-05-2011)

Article by Linda Relyea

"I believe in my heart of hearts that those who study and understand sociology become more effective people," says Dr. Clarence Parks, who joined the Adams State faculty in 1983, and retired in the spring 2011.

Parks has been visually impaired since childhood, but this never slowed him down or curtailed his interests. Although an elementary school principal expected him to leave school and learn a skill such as "broom making," Parks's mother argued and his education continued in public school. In the last several years, Clarence's vision has deteriorated, yet his love of learning and teaching continues.

He said he knew Adams State would become his home when he noticed an old Pinto with a hole in the driver's side window in the college parking lot -- as opposed to the Mercedes filling lots at Texas A&M, where he earned his Ph.D. He received his master's from Stephen F. Austin State University and bachelor's degree from Sam Houston State University.

Amy Hansen '05, sociology major, took classes from Parks and was his work-study assistant. "He is a highly inquisitive man who wants to know everything about everything. He is my 'fountain of knowledge' for random facts and information."

Continued support from his colleagues and supervisors encouraged Parks. "President David Svaldi, Sociology Department Chair Michael Martin, and all my fellow faculty have always been there for me. I appreciate their constant support."

Parks is active with the National Federation of the Blind, the largest organization of blind people in America. "We actively encourage young blind people to enter the teaching profession," Parks said. "I am compiling what I have learned in my 40 years as a blind teacher into documents which may help young blind teachers quickly learn things about their situation that took me decades to master."

Having just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, Vicki said, "Clarence is my best friend. We love each other more now than ever; it is a great life." She admires his sense of humor and love of learning. She believes Parks always strove to be a good teacher, person, father and husband. "He amazes me every day in what he attempts to accomplish. He is not one who makes excuses even with a vision handicap."

Parks' brother, Barton, agrees. "Clarence has a great deal of courage and understanding. He is not afraid to be his own person and go his own way." Parks made his way in a world for the sighted, and continues inspire others with vision impairment. "Clarence plans to teach other blind people how to play the guitar in his retirement."

His years of inspiring and motivating student were recognized by the 2010 Presidential Teaching Award. He taught a variety of courses in sociology and says his favorite, sociology of the blues, developed out of his love for all aspects of blues music. "Blues music is a contradiction, the songs are of heartache, poverty, and dislocation, but once the song finishes, you feel like smiling."

Clarence and Vicki have two children: Aaron, Adams State '00 graduate, (Jessie, Adams State '00 graduate); and Elizabeth (Nathan). They anticipate retirement providing them with more time to spend with their children and grandchildren.

A glance at Clarence Parks

Born with 10% vision - now only able to tell the direction of bright sunlight
Completed his entire education without special services or treatment -- elementary school teachers would hand him their notes to study; he held the papers right up to his nose
Survived rattlesnake bite on the hand
Spent a year after college at a hippy commune -- but never took illegal drugs
Wrote The Man Who Knew the Blues, now ready for publication
Favorite time of day: when wife, Vicki, comes home
Donated a collection of antique clocks to the Luther Bean Museum, served on the first Luther Bean Museum board
Founded the Last Chance Band in the late '80s with faculty colleagues and community members who gather at private homes and share food and music -- a tradition continuing today
Impresses students, colleagues, and family with his thirst for information and knowledge
If granted another life, would be an Everglades fishing guide
As a child, made a homemade canon he would shoot off towards the coast
Believes Adams State students improve with every year