LEXINGTON, Ky. - Irene Elizabeth Parker, retired teacher and pioneer for Special Education services in KY, passed away Thursday, April 4, 2013, at the age of 83.
Ms. Parker was born in Lexington on May 1, 1929, into a family who had been in Lexington since the 1790s, the earliest days of the city. The Parker ancestors were among the working citizens of the city: They were machinists, street car engineers, millers, tin makers, teachers, wig makers, and homemakers. Her father was the city plumber in the early 1900's. Her great great grandparents, Jacob and Nancy Parker, were charter members of Centenary Methodist Church, where Ms. Parker also had her membership.
Ms. Parker graduated from Henry Clay High School in 1947. She received her B.A. from Milligan College in Tennessee, and her Master's Degree from the University of KY. She started out her career teaching 2nd grade at Kenwick Elementary. She taught in Fayette County Schools for 10 years. During this time she was called to her life's work. She returned to University of KY for additional graduate work, in the field that we now know as Special Education. Ms. Parker became the first certified teacher for Special Education in the state of KY. She loved the children that she worked with, and she had the gift to know what to do. Her classroom became a model for all that would follow. In those early years, the field of Special Education did not even have a name. The children were labeled as "Educable" or "Trainable." Ms. Parker started out teaching "Trainable" children. The entire concept of Special Education was new and controversial. Ms. Parker persevered, because she believed in the potential of every child.
Ms. Parker believed in what she was doing. She shared the stories of the children's successes. She joined the Council for Exceptional Children and was President of the Fayette County chapter. She became a member of the Association for the Mentally Deficient, the National Association for Learning Disabilities and the Blue Grass Association for the Mentally Retarded, as well as numerous education groups. After 10 years in the classroom, she accepted a position in Frankfort with the KY Department of Education. For 16 years, Ms. Parker and her small, often unreliable, car drove all over the state of KY, setting up and encouraging Special Education classes in all parts of the state.
When she retired, she settled in at Richmond Place retirement community. Despite some illnesses, Ms. Parker put her time and energy into volunteer work. She was Red Cross Volunteer of the year for her work with the "Hello Daily" program.
Ms. Parker's last several years were lived at Richmond Place Rehab and Health Care center. The staff there has been a great blessing, and she counted each one as family and dear friends. The family would like to extend our deepest thanks to every member of the staff, and also to the KY ombudsman community, for the genuine love, time, and care that they shared with Ms. Parker.
Ms. Parker was predeceased by her parents, Wallace MeGlone Parker and Irene Perkins Parker, and also by her six older brothers. Her survivors are two nieces, Linda Parker Reeves, of Birmingham, Alabama, and Janis Henton Parker of Taylorsville, KY; a great niece Joy Reeves Pemberton (Keith), of Little Rock, Arkansas; three great nephews, Charles Reeves of Phoenix, Arizona, David Reeves (Katie) of Birmingham, AL, and Andrew Reeves of Atlanta, Georgia. There are also 3 great grand nephews: Will Pemberton; James and Jackson Reeves; and special friends Bob Adams and Sue Landis.
Funeral services will be at 1:30 pm Monday at Milward-Broadway preceded by visitation after 12 noon. Burial will follow in Lexington Cemetery.
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