Barney Parker served as Boise schools superintendent for nearly 18 years, steering the district through tumultuous times, including board turmoil, budget cuts and significant growth.
The 79-year-old died at a local hospital Sunday after a seven-year battle with prostate cancer.
The Texas native was hired in 1976, after working for the Galesburg, Ill., school district.
When he first came to Boise, the district was in turmoil, said Janet Orndorff, a school trustee since 1990. She said the school board was split and constantly deadlocked. To his credit, that settled down, Orndorff said.
Three years after Parker was hired, budget cuts triggered by a property tax limit approved by voters forced him to lay off 300 people.
Parker is described by those who knew him as folksy, personable and a friend to all.
He always wanted to make sure the teachers, the people who worked for the district and the students knew how much he cared about them and appreciated them, Orndorff said. All felt like they were part of something important and working together.
Parker was a top administrator with responsibility for 1,500 employees and 26,500 students but he didnt stay holed up in his office.
He invited staff and others who came to his office to take a walk with him, current Superintendent Don Coberly recalled.
He enjoyed being outside and having conversations while walking, said Coberly, who worked as district language arts supervisor for six years under Parker. He told a lot of stories and was really fun to talk to.
Coberly said he admired Parkers direct involvement in the schools, filling in for teachers and reading to kids. He is credited for reaching out to the business community and parents, and for establishing the Boise Schools Foundation.
The foundation turns private donations into a variety of things to help students, including college scholarships, musical instruments for those who cant afford them and books for school libraries.
Six elementary schools and Les Bois Junior High were built during Parkers tenure. The district lost 5,000 students at one point, then later gained 8,000, according to a 1993 Statesman article.
Parker was named one of the Top 100 school administrators by Executive Educator magazine in 1992. Orndorff believes Parkers greatest legacy may be selecting top-notch personnel.
All four high schools rated in the top 9 percent of high schools in the nation that doesnt happen overnight and it doesnt happen by chance, she said, citing Washington Posts annual rankings.
When Parker retired in 1994, the board did a nationwide search then hired Parkers right-hand man, Dehryl Tony Dennis.
Parker and his wife, Phyllis, were married for 59 years. They had three children and six grandchildren.
After retiring in 1994, Parker and his wife were sidelined by several personal losses, Phyllis Parker said. Three of their parents in Texas and Missouri died over a period of nine months.
Until recently, the Parkers split their time between the Treasure Valley and Palm Springs. Parker was an avid tennis player and played competitively at the Palm Springs Tennis Club.
He really truly loved Boise he was one of the best ambassadors there ever was. He talked Boise wherever he went, Phyllis Parker said.
Katy Moeller: 377-6413