On Senior Day at the Rice County Fair today the 2018 Outstanding Senior Citizen Award winner was announced.  Ron Parker does not attend senior events so it was quite a chore to get him to the senior lunch in the Straight River Room of the Fair Board office.  Friend Julie Fox told Ron she needed some help carrying in equipment to videotape the ceremony and he agreed to help.

Parker noted after receiving the plaque from Rice County Fair Board President Kathy Cap he did have his suspicions when he entered the room and saw so many of his friends from the various organizations he has volunteered for over the years.  Organizers are hoping to nominate him for the State Senior Volunteer of the Year named during the State Fair next month.

Cap presented Parker with his plaque while wearing attire women would go to the fair in 145 years ago because the Rice County Fair is celebrating it's 145th year and she knows about Ron's love of history as well as the fair.

Ron Parker grew up in Faribault and attended Mankato State University and Dunwoody Institute to get his engineering degree.  In more than 35 years he built highways, the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, and multiple significant Faribault landmarks.

Before retiring in 2000 Parker served as President of the Rice County Historical Society  for four years and remained on the board an additional twelve years.  One of his many challenges involved the restoration of the Holy Innocents Church which was moved from Cannon City to the fairgrounds in the late 1950's.  The church needed new doors.  Ron worked with the Faribault correctional facility woodworking program to give the prisoners real world on-site experience while minimizing the restoration cost.

The next challenge was getting the cross back on the top of the church.  Anyone who knows Ron knows he is very capable of planning and managing a project and is not afraid to pick up some tools and assist.  He got the old Rice County Fire Engine running, backed it up to the church, got the rickety extension ladder up and climbed to the top to set the cross.

Parker was President  of the Rice County Fair Board for 8 years and continues to be an active board member.  4-H activities included helping to rebuild horse barns and gave horse management clinics.  He was leading the Fair Board when the Grandstand burned down in 1990 and got the new metal one constructed after a considerable amount of debate.

Ron was instrumental in assisting the late Orwin Rustad in beginning the River Bend Nature Center in 1978.  That is when it was established as a 501 (c) (3) educational non-profit. River Bend contains 743 acres of woodlands, prairies and wetlands including the Straight River.

He assisted in getting the lease for the land which was eventually purchased from the state for $1.  In 1989 he helped get a state grant to construct the the administration building.  Prior to that the River Bend Executive Director had an office in the basement of Faribault City Hall.

Parker had to leave the board until 1981 so he could help manage and construct the Nature Center without a conflict of interest.  He was President for seven years, helped start the popular RIver Bend Ramble fundraiser for the nature center and has been involved in working at pancake breakfasts and holiday events.

The nature center had it's official grand opening and dedication September 21, 1980 and I remember like it was yesterday covering the opening of a new interpretive center July 2, 1991.  It is without a doubt one of my favorite places in Faribault.

I will often go to River Bend to do some reflection because I consider the outdoors God's church.  I always feel closer to my maker when I'm in the natural world.

Ron and his late wife Karen would  take their horses and restored old sleigh and travel to various events around the country.  I did see them a few times at the Kenyon Sleigh and Cutter Parade and I know they frequented Winterfest at RIver Bend over the years as well as an event in Duluth.

Karen was a teacher at Jefferson Elementary school in Faribault and she would have her students write letters to Santa.  Before Christmas, Ron would arrange for Santa to ride with him in the sleigh to school so all the kids could wave to Santa out the window and know that he had received their letters.

The list of people who nominated Ron Parker for the 2018 Outstanding Rice County Senior Citizen reads like a who's who of people involved with the Rice County Historical Society, River Bend Nature Center and the Rice County Fair Board.

They include Nalani McCutcheon, John Blackmer, Pauline Schreiber, Pat Chappuis, Susan Garwood and Breanna Wheeler.

L-R Rice County Fair Board President Kathy Cap, Ron Parker and Gordy Kosfeld. Photo by Troy Temple