Near the end of his life, Harry Parker still had people stopping by his backyard repair shop for a chat.
“We’d say, ‘He's not able to fix anything anymore,’ but they'd want to come in and see him, just to talk,” said his daughter, Sherry DeNoon, 69, of unincorporated Fenton. “He was that wise, calm guy people loved visiting with.
“Everybody always said he was such a gentleman.”
Mr. Parker died July 6 at age 94 of congestive heart failure. He was a longtime tool and die maker, and ran Parker’s Small Engine Repair out of his garage in unincorporated Fenton for more than 30 years.
Mr. Parker grew up in a small town near Mt. Vernon, Ill., and attended a one-room schoolhouse in his early years.
“Then his dad bought this great big car, an Oldsmobile, and drove a bunch of kids to high school in Wayne City,” Sherry said. “My mom was the first person they picked up on the way, and she and my dad became high school sweethearts.”
Mr. Parker went into the military right out of high school, and the two were married while he was home on furlough.
Sherry said her father spoke often about his military service, especially in later years.
“He would talk about how he drove tractors to clear land for an airfield or base,” she said. “I don’t know exactly how he got his Bronze stars.”
Back in the states, Mr. Parker and his wife settled in Peoria, where they welcomed Sherry in 1951 and Mr. Parker went to a trade school to learn tool and die making.
“He got a job at Ford Aero, building engines for big planes,” Sherry said. “When they closed the plant, the company offered jobs in California, but he opted to come back home. He worked at a machine shop in Salem.”
In 1962, the family (which by then also included son, Vernon) moved to St. Louis, and Mr. Parker held several jobs over the next few years.
“He worked one place where they made molds for football helmets,” Sherry said. “It was amazing, all the things he had a hand in doing.”
After he retired in the early 80s, Mr. Parker opened his repair business.
“His shop was really a garage in our backyard,” Sherry said. “People started bringing lawnmowers and that kind of thing. It was word-of-mouth at first; then my mom made him a little sign to put out in the yard.
“Apparently, it worked.”
When Mr. Parker died, the family put a black drape across the sign.
“An old man came in and asked for my dad,” Sherry said. “We told him, ‘Well, see the sign? He isn’t here. He passed.’ And this man just looked at us and said, ‘Well, who am I going to take my mowers to? I’ve been coming here for 30 years!’”
Sherry said many of her dad’s customers came for more than just repairs.
“It wasn’t just dropping your mower off and leaving,” she said. “They always stayed and talked awhile. He enjoyed talking with them.”
Some of the people who brought him repairs were a bit short of cash.
“He and my mom would work with people to fix up a payment plan,” Sherry said. “He was a generous man.”
Mr. Parker wasn’t much for hobbies, but he spent a lot of time with family.
“In summer, we went camping and spent time at the lake on my grandpa’s farm with family,” Sherry said. “It’s beautiful there.”
She said her father also enjoyed fishing with family and friends and quail hunting with his bird dogs.
“For our Christmas Eve dinner every year, we’d fix quail he had caught.”
He also liked a good game of pinochle.
“When we would go home (to Illinois), he and his brothers would play,” Sherry said.
The family enjoys all kinds of other games as well.
“My dad and his brothers and sisters-in-law would go to Florida and spend a few weeks in a condo in the winter,” Sherry said. “They got into playing dominoes, which is real popular down there. They played Yahtzee, Monopoly, a game called Sequence.
“It comes in a Monopoly-sized box, but they made a great big board that sat in the middle of the table, so it was easier for everyone to see and reach.”
Mr. Parker was an active member of Fenton Baptist Church since 1962.
“He was a deacon, and he served on the building committee,” Sherry said. “He taught preschool Sunday School for years. He loved kids.”
A widower since 2011, Mr. Parker stayed healthy and active until very recently.
“He was alert right up until the end,” Sherry said. “His brother came for the Fourth of July and they had a nice visit. He went to bed and went into a coma and died in his sleep, very peacefully at home.”
He was buried in the National Cemetery at Jefferson Barracks with full military honors.
“It was really neat, with the flags and playing taps and the 21-gun salute,” Sherry said. “Jefferson Barracks is such a peaceful place.”
She said her dad will be remembered for being a good Christian and a good friend.
“When he was frustrated, he’d show it, but I never really saw him show anger to anybody,” his daughter said. “He was just a nice, gentle man.”
“Life Story,” posted Saturdays on Leader Publications’ website, focuses on one individual’s impact on his or her community.