celebrating 100 years
still not ready to act
or show her age
Louise Parkinson isn’t your typical centenarian. And don’t expect her to start acting like one.
Her sharp mind and sense of humor defy her age.
And, if not for a fall four years ago in which she broke her hip, she would be equally stubborn about showing the physical side of her age as well.
Perhaps that toughness came about during her upbringing in Red Lion, in southeast Pennsylvania, near the Susquehanna River. Louise was born on July 18, 1914, the oldest of two natural brothers, an adopted brother and a sister.
“We were river rats,” says Louise, who learned to become an avid swimmer as a result of frequent visits to the river with her three brothers (one adopted) and sister. “The river wasn’t very deep at that time because there wasn’t a dam like there is today.”
“I guess you could say we had a wild family,” she adds with a grin.
One memory, in particular, that stands out in Louise’s mind was a visit to a hospital where an aunt was a patient.
“I saw one of the nurses in uniform and I knew that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she recalls. “I was so impressed by how professional the nurses looked.”
It was a decision that would influence events during the rest of her life.
Immediately following high school graduation, she applied for acceptance into Hahneman Hospital in Philadelphia that led to her becoming a Registered Nurse. However, this was preceded by a four-month probationary period in which the hospital was able to evaluate candidates.
“They didn’t accept you into nursing school right away because they had more nurses than they needed in 1932,” says Louise, who worked 12-hour shifts for 50 cents an hour.
The pay, she says, was good for women at a time when there weren’t too many career options other than nursing and teaching “and nursing paid better.” And the probation period was a chance for the hospital to only accept the “cream of the crop and I was the cream,” she points out.
Louise remained in the Philadelphia area where she continued working as a nurse until the U.S. entered World War II with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
One day, while walking up the subway steps, Louise says she saw the poster of Uncle Sam saying “I Need You” and she decided it was time to join her brothers who had already enlisted.
“I asked for immediate foreign duty. I didn’t want to go to a hospital in Philadelphia where I was only looking after the officer’s wives,” Louise says firmly.
She wanted to be sent to Europe where two of her brothers were serving, but instead was assigned as an Army nurse to the Pacific Theater where her other brother was serving on the aircraft carrier Essex. She spent 29 months at military posts in Australia, New Guinea, the East Indies and the Philippines.
“There weren’t very many nurses,” notes Louise. “Every one of us had volunteered.”
While stationed in the Philippines, Louise and other nurses who were working in a hospital at Leyte were invited to a party that was being thrown by the local Sea Bees. That’s where she met Lou Parkinson who was an officer in the Navy stationed at nearby Samar.
“He was handsome. All the gals were crazy about him,” recalls Louise. “I knew right away he was going to be my husband, but he didn’t know it.”
She says it was difficult for the couple to get together since they were in different branches of the military serving in different locations. And when they were able to arrange a date, military regulations required that all couples had to be accompanied by another male and female. They also had to be back on the base by midnight.
“It wasn’t very romantic,” Louise admits. “But Lou was a really wonderful person.”
After dating “for what seemed like forever,” the couple was married in a ceremony held at Tacloban, in the Philippines, in 1945. Louise was discharged from the Army before Lou, so she returned to Philadelphia where she lived briefly until she could be joined by her husband.
Rather than returning to Lou’s home in Boise, Idaho, the couple decided to accept an offer from a brother, Henry Parkinson, to manage his farming interests in Scott County.
The couple eventually leased some farm ground and began farming for themselves. Lou started Grain Sorghum Hogs, which was one of the first commercial hog feeding operations in the state and, at one time, was the third largest.
“Nobody was hog farming at the time. Lou was a very bright man and he saw that as a great opportunity,” says Louise.
She never returned to the nursing profession after leaving the military, instead keeping busy with raising six children and helping Lou on the farm.
After 67 years of marriage, Lou passed away on Jan. 3, 2013.
Louise doesn’t offer any secrets to a long, healthy life.
She used to swim regularly at The Athleticlub in Scott City and could be seen frequently taking brisk walks around town until a broken hip put an end to both activities at the age of 96.
“When she was 92, Mom could swim seven laps at the Athleticlub without stopping. It took 45 minutes,” says her daughter, Vicki Burr, who now lives with and looks after her mother at home.
Louise does admit to one minor vice. She will drink half a beer every Saturday with her pizza.
“I used to smoke until I got bit by a mosquito and came down with encephalitis. I was so sick that I couldn’t smoke and I never started again,” she says.
She stays mentally sharp as an avid reader of National Geographic magazine and a regular viewer of “Jeopardy.”
“I can answer some of the questions, but I’m not as quick as I used to be,” she concedes.
As for the countless changes during her lifetime, Louise says it’s impossible to name just one that seems more remarkable than another.
“So many things have happened,” she says. “It’s been a good life.”
What a Lovely Feature Article
"Thank you so much for this wonderful article about my Aunt Louise. Her husband, Lou, was the brother of my grandfather, Henry Parkinson who was mentioned in the story. Louise is a wonderful lady. I used to visit her every time I was in Scott City during my summer visits. She always welcomed me into her home and took me seriously, which was important to a young girl growing up during the 1960s. This article is a wonderful tribute to a wonderful lady and I learned many things about Louise, who has never been inclined toward self-promotion. Thank you again!"
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