While it has come naturally for him to support education, Jim Parrish admits that he was “a little surprised” when he found out he would be receiving the 2017 Patron of the Year award during the Topeka Public Schools Foundation breakfast on Tuesday.
“There are lots of people who do a lot of work for Topeka Public Schools that are probably far more deserving than I am,” he said. “I was surprised when I heard about that.”
Parrish, 71, a native of Great Bend, said his impact on local public education has mainly been on an individual and family basis, both personally and financially.
“That’s probably where I have a lot of emphasis,” he said. “It’s our family’s way of trying to be supportive of an institution that has almost an impossible job to continue to excel and teach thousands of children year after year and keep up with the times and battle for the funding and battle for the tax dollars and still be premier so that our students are graduating with the kind of education that will give them worldwide, competitive abilities,” he said. “It all starts here but the end result is really pretty important, where our students go, what they do, the skills they learn. It’s hard to know how many you really touch but hopefully a few.”
Much of his affinity for helping children and families comes from his wife, Shawnee County District Judge Nancy Parrish’s early career as a school teacher in several Topeka USD 501 schools in East Topeka.
“We were friends and colleagues with a lot of people who were involved in the school system at the time,” he said.
But it was in the formation and incorporation of the Highland Park Baseball Association that had once been operated by an East Topeka community-based booster program that Parrish believes his contribution to young people’s lives was significant. He said even though the athletic program wasn’t “school-specific,” the impact of moving several baseball fields to what is now Dornwood Park has had an ongoing impact on the youth of East Topeka.
“It gave me the opportunity to interact with a lot of families and kids who were involved in that program,” he said, noting that the program changed its name a couple of years ago to the Topeka Baseball and Softball Association.
Pamela Johnson-Betts, executive director of the Topeka Public Schools Foundation, said Parrish “has just been continuously one of our staunch supporters to help improve the lives of TPS youth.”
“It goes beyond sports,” she said. “He is just an all around great guy that cares and gives opportunities to the disadvantaged, especially to those in East Topeka without thought of repayment.”
Parrish said he admires the work the TPS Foundation does on behalf of the district’s students.
“I’ve had a really good close relationship with the foundation in terms of trying to help,” he said, adding that some of his corporate donations have supported USD 501’s Hummer Sports Park.
The sports complex, sitting a couple of blocks to the west of S.W. 6th and MacVicar, was completed in 2003 after district patrons approved a $24.5 million bond issue in April 2001 that included $17.5 million to construct the facility.
“It was one of the things that Topeka Public Schools did for our community,” he said. “It seemed only natural to support it because it not only supports students who are at athletic events there but it supports a lot of other activities. It was a really good investment.”
In addition to receiving this year’s patron award, Parrish was also named recipient of the “TPS Friends of Education” award.
The 8th annual Topeka Public Schools Foundation breakfast will be at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday at the Ramada Hotel and Convention Center, 420 S.E. 6th Ave.
Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of USD 501, will present the state of the district address. For information on attending the breakfast, call (785) 295-3024.
Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or follow her on Twitter @AngelaDeines.