Story Behind the Name: Parker Park
January 18, 2023
Gene Parker was in his late thirties when he and his wife Denise bought a spanking new home in Gunbarrel's Heatherwood subdivision. The year was 1967, and most of Heatherwood was still a twinkle in its developers' eyes.
A short walk from the Parkers' new home were a couple of acres of open space with a clear view of the mountains. The site was designated as a future park, but as time passed, the future never seemed to arrive. "The actual space was designated for a park, but it was never created," said Evan McCalmon, Gene's neighbor for a short time and president of what is now the Parker Park Board.
McCalmon explained that eventually, the Parkers took matters into their own hands, in some ways quite literally. Gene negotiated with the City of Boulder for water rights to the open space parcel that the city acquired in 1970. After the city installed a main water line, Gene, with help from his sons and the family Jeep, cleared and smoothed the land, built an irrigation system, and planted greenery.
"A lot of the park's mature trees... I'm sure Gene planted them," McCalmon said. He noted that Denise was integral to the park's creation too, serving on an oversight board. "I think she ran the books for a while," he added.
Thanks to the Parkers' initiative and commitment, a neighborhood park took root, one that McCalmon and his neighbors have come to cherish. "I love that park, and Gene and Denise are largely responsible for making it into what it is," said McCalmon.
Community service seemed to come naturally to the Parkers. Gene's obituary on legacy.com tells the story of a doer. Natives of upstate New York, he and Denise met after high school, and it wasn't long before he asked Denise to wait for him so he could enlist in the U.S. Navy and fight in the Korean War. He served for five years on the U.S.S. Irwin in the Pacific.
When Gene returned home, he and Denise married and began a family. Gene's work as a mechanical engineer eventually led him to IBM, and the couple and their four children settled in Gunbarrel.
In his spare time, Gene stepped up as treasurer for his Navy shipmates' reunion committee and as trustee for Boulder's post of the Veterans for Foreign Wars. Both Parkers served on Heatherwood's Homeowners Association board.
Denise, according to her obituary in Kingston, New York's Oneida Daily Dispatch, worked as a registered nurse and became the first woman Eucharistic minister at Boulder's Sacred Heart of Jesus Church. Gene coached baseball for his children's teams with the Gunbarrel Lefthand Valley Recreation Association, now known as Niwot Youth Sports.
The Parkers were no strangers to fun, either. The two were regulars at Rhythm on the Rails, the forerunner to Niwot's Rock & Rails summer concert series at Whistle Stop Park. Denise even won a 1970's-themed Rhythm on the Rails Costume Contest.
For more than fifty years, the Parkers made Heatherwood their home, and could often be seen waving to neighbors as they enjoyed the park they created. In September, 2010, Denise passed away at the age of 78. After her death, Gene installed a bench in their favorite park, and dedicated it to Denise's memory. "I used to talk to Gene when he was on his bench," McCalmon remembered. "He'd sit on that bench and stare at the mountains." Gene also installed a bench at Whistle Stop Park in Niwot in Denise's memory.
In 2020, those couple of acres that were so important to Gene and Denise were renamed, and a sign was installed that reads "Parker Park." Gene and his sons were there for the dedication. "He always prided himself on the steps he took to create that park," McCalmon said.
Gene Parker died on Oct. 29 of last year at the age of 92, but it turns out his way of life inspired a culture of volunteerism among his Heatherwood brethren. "We do a lot of the work ourselves," said McCalmon, describing how Parker Park is maintained. "We prune trees, plant, replace sprinkler heads... a lot of little fixes when we can. Gene installed that philosophy with the neighborhood. Lots of people volunteer."
And that's a legacy that extends well beyond the boundaries of a certain community park.