Celebrating a transformation: from parking lot to heart of a town

Steve Gerace
The newly completed Parker Plaza was unveiled to the public at a packed ceremony Saturday evening, June 8 in Mount Shasta, just in time for people to enjoy it on the Fourth of July.  Photo by Steve Gerace

Dr. Jim Parker was referred to as a magician, "a tenacious visionary," someone who can control the weather and stop the trains; a man with the power to turn dreams into reality.

Saturday evening's dedication of Parker Plaza in downtown Mount Shasta was, as Parker's son Nathan called it, "a celebration of a lifetime of work and commitment."

The place was packed with a broad spectrum of Plaza appreciators, including many of the area's movers and shakers.

Speaker after speaker talked about how Jim Parker ignited a community spirit of volunteerism that has raised more than $1 million, much of it used for projects that have transformed the look and feel of downtown Mount Shasta.

Mountain Runners president Dusty Miller called the Plaza "the crown jewel of over 30 years of projects."

The main vehicle for that fundraising has been Mount Shasta's Fourth of July Fun Walk and Run, which Parker founded in 1980 with the goal of giving back to the community.

The list of projects Mountain Runners has contributed to is longer than the line formed by 5,000 people stretched along the July 4th Walk course.

Parker Plaza, with its subtitle, "A Mountain Runners Community Project," as stipulated by Dr. Parker, is the biggest and most recent project.

Miller said Parker approached the Mountain Runners' board in 2010 with the idea for turning what was a ragged parking lot into what it has become: a brick lined plaza with stone benches, fountain, landscaping, and views of Mt. Shasta and the Eddys.

"Everybody is used to Jim thinking outside the box," he said.

Mountain Runners contributed $128,000 to purchase the property, while several generous private donors contributed.

Mountain Runners invested another $100,000 for infrastructure and construction, and many have made donations large and small.

Dedication emcee Leif Voeltz said Mountain Runners has touched "virtually everyone in town: businesses, clubs, city, county, and state."

He pointed out that "logging was king" in Mount Shasta 35 years ago, but the town has since "made an evolution into a recreation economy."

Lynda Hardy, who co-directed the Walk/Run with Parker for many years, said "Jim has given the community a common bond."

She detailed how the event grew from 250 participants the first year "under Jim's visionary guidance."

"Witness the magic with which Jim can get almost anything done," she said, referring to him as "a tenacious visionary."

Speakers included Nadine Aiello and the leaders of the Plaza's construction: designer Ron Stevens, contractor Eli Jones, stone worker Ron Cooper, and Art Horvath, who quarried the stones that so many are marveling at.

Horvath unveiled "one more rock," this one engraved with the words: "Parker Plaza: A Mountain Runners Community Project."

Cooper said it was "one of the only projects I've worked on where friends spontaneously show up to help."

Stevens said many ideas were submitted, and "the plaza as it exists is the culmination of all of them."

Referring to the influence Parker received from EST around the time he started the Walk/Run, Stevens said, "We can blame Werner Erhard for how persuasive Parker can be."

Jones, standing with one knee on a stone, noted the Mount Shasta High School graduation the night before and the "young minds (who) already see that we live in a village and work as a team."

He referred to the plaza as a representation of "our connection to each other."

Aiello, who has helped with many aspects of the project, said, "Working with Jim on this project, witnessing his passion and his commitment, has been a gift I will forever carry with me. My respect and admiration for such a remarkable man keeps growing as he inspires this community, once again, to create magic."

Dusty Miller pointed to the 600 volunteers who help every year with the Fourth of July Walk/Run and "the army of volunteers" that has been helping create Parker Plaza.

He also emphasized the considerable contributions of the late Marcia Smith, for whom one landscaped section of the Plaza is dedicated. "Jim has been the inspiration and soul of the Fourth of July event," said Miller. "Marcia Smith was the heartbeat, the one that made everything happen... It's been a real challenge to fill the void that Marcia left, to fill all the jobs she's done."

"Dr. Parker's grit and determination is legendary," said Voeltz, owner of the Fifth Season outdoor store. He marvelled that the Walk/Run has never been cancelled or postponed in 33 years because of weather.

"That doesn't happen unless you have some connection up there," said Voeltz, who then acted out an imagined phone conversation in which Parker is trying to convince a Union Pacific official to stop the trains for the Fourth of July Walk/Run – something he actually succeeded in doing.

"You'd just as soon change the weather," Voeltz has the UP official tell Parker upon hearing his request. "Oh, you've already done that? In that case..."

Vince Reinig, standing with other Mount Shasta Chamber of Commerce board members, presented the Chamber's Legacy Award to Parker, telling him, "Mount Shasta is a much better place because you are here."

Parker, suffering from a form of terminal Lou Gehrig's disease that causes choking and slurring of his speech, stepped up on one of Horvath's pieces of jade to address the large audience.

He held no wizard's staff, but a paper filled with the kinds of thoughts and ideas that have had special powers these past three decades.

He reflected on a parking lot "transformed into the heart of Mount Shasta." He imagined a marriage being held there, small concerts, romance and relaxation on the grass, wi fi users, "evenings getting together with the lit fountains, arbor, lights in the trees. Sunsets looking out at the Eddys and Mt. Shasta."

Parker suggested more trees throughout town and the downtown streets being closed and filled with farmers and artists and crafts people.

"And selfishly," he said, "Sixty to 80 years from now a great grandchild of mine or yours will drive down this street and ask, 'What's the story behind that place? And the parent will say, 'There was this running country doc around the turn of the last century who simply asked himself every morning, Does it matter that I was born?' I thank all of you for being part of my life."