OBITUARY

John Leonard Parks

April 3, 1927March 13, 2018
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John Leonard Parks will be missed by many. He was known as J.L., a devoted husband of 68 years to Barbara, Dad, Granddad, guard for 2-time Oklahoma State NCAA Championship teams, Houston Oilers fan, breakfast lover, a Shriner, a Jester, WWII Veteran, life of the party and overall Mr. Personality. He passed away March 13, 2018 from complications due to pneumonia. April 3 would have been his 91st birthday, but he was very young in his heart and mind. Our love and sincere heartfelt appreciation go out to friends, neighbors and caretakers that have held us up these last months. Services on Thursday will be for family, but we invite you to join us for a celebration of life at Westbury Methodist Church on April 7 at 1:00. Please check www.americanheritagefuneralhome.com for a link to a great article about Dad and Mom from the OSU basketball department. You can also leave words of encouragement, stories or funny moments about our sweet and dearly missed dad. In lieu of flowers, donations in his honor may be made to the Shriners Hospital.

“Once met, never forgotten.”

Please visit this link to review an article on the life of John Parks: http://okstate.com/news/2018/3/14/mens-basketball-legendary-cowboy-j-l-parks-passed-away.aspx

  • PALLBEARERS

  • Glenn Parks, Pallbearer
  • Larry Parks, Pallbearer
  • Gary Parks, Pallbearer
  • Jimmy Parks, Pallbearer
  • Dean Hill, Pallbearer
  • Sam Parks, Pallbearer
  • DONATIONS

  • The Shriners Hospital

Services

  • Visitation Thursday, March 22, 2018
  • Funeral Service Thursday, March 22, 2018
  • Committal Service Thursday, March 22, 2018
REMEMBERING

John Leonard Parks

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Leyton Brundrett

April 20, 2018

I met J.L. in the early 1960’s in Corpus Christi. He was there with Ada Oil Co. and I worked for Phillips 66....Thru the years he and Barbara have remained the best of friends.......Wanda and I have spent many Christmas parties in their home......Our three daughters were included.... J.L.and I have played many rounds of golf together.....He was tough to beat....One of J.L’s many talents included he would always get the last word in.....We dearly loved the Parks....Wanda and I want to wish the entire Parks clan our warmest personal regards on your loss...
Love,
Leyton and Wanda

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Biography

The Cowboy basketball family lost a legend on Tuesday night. J.L. Parks, a veteran of three NCAA Final Four appearances, two national titles and World War II, passed away.

He was born the son of a sharecropper in Paoli, Oklahoma, but became a two-time national champion and an All-American in 1949. But that was just the beginning of Parks' story, which was told beautifully in POSSE Magazine just a few months ago by Clay Billman.

UNLIKELY LEGEND
BY CLAY BILLMAN

It had to be a mistake.

The slender 17-year-old wasn't a football player. Had never played the game. His one-horse hometown didn't even field a team.

So what was John Leonard Parks doing on the gridiron with All-Everythings like Bob Fenimore, Neill Armstrong and Cecil Hankins?

"I got a letter from Oklahoma A&M asking me to try out for football," recalls Parks, who goes by J.L. "I lived out in the country, and there were two fellas from Pauls Valley, Bill Walker and Joe Thomas, who were football players. They said, 'Hey, we see you're on the list so let's go up (to Stillwater) together.' So I went out for football.

"They had to help me put on my equipment. I didn't know how," he laughs. "I never played a down of football in my life, but my folks didn't have enough money to send me to school so I thought if I got a scholarship it would be great."

Parks' fledgling football career lasted all of 48 hours in the summer of 1944.

"I went out for football for two days, and it liked to have killed me."

Aggie football coach Jim Lookabaugh lined up the six-foot Parks at wide receiver.

"I went out for a couple of passes and man, Bob (Fenimore) threw that ball so hard I thought it broke my hand!"

That was it for Parks.

"I decided that second day, I can't do this. I was going to check my stuff in and go home."

Parks picked up his gear and headed over to Gallagher Hall, where he saw a young man shooting baskets. On the sideline, an imposing figure loomed.

"Something made me go over there and ask if they were having any kind of a workout for basketball."

Henry P. Iba gave Parks the onceover.

"I had never met Mr. Iba before. He looked at me — looked down at me really — and said, 'Son, what's your name?' I'll never forget this. I told him, and he said, 'Check that stuff in. Be out here tomorrow at two o'clock.'"

Parks did as the legendary coach instructed.

"He looked at me for about five minutes and said, 'I'm going to give you a scholarship."
Unbeknownst to Parks, he had already been on Coach Iba's recruiting radar.

"Mr. Iba told his secretary to send me a letter to come up and try out for basketball," Parks says. "Well, she had been sending out football letters and sent me a football letter by accident. He didn't tell me what happened until I was a junior."

HOMEGROWN HOOPS

The son of a sharecropper turned roughneck, Parks was a basketball standout for the Paoli Pugs. Pronounced pay-o-luh by locals, the tiny town — pop. 423 in the 1940 census — sits seven miles north of Pauls Valley on State Highway 77.

"I had my first two years in a little old country school called Union Springs, and of course it's long gone. When they closed their high school we were put in the Paoli School District.

"We played against Bethel and Crossroads and all those little country schools that dotted the farming area around Garvin County."

In Stillwater, Parks wondered if he could compete at college basketball's highest level.

"There must have been a hundred people out for basketball," he says. "It was a bunch. I thought to myself, 'Here I am, I come from Paoli, Class B high school, 13 in my graduating class, and I'm up here with these all-state boys from Kansas and Oklahoma and everywhere … I may be out of place.'"

Coach Iba's scholarship offer was contingent on making the team — or rather, surviving training camp.

"I tell ya, that first night of practice, I can still see it," Parks recalls. "Mr. Iba sat us down and gave us a talk. I remember him saying, 'Fellas, I won't cut any of you. I won't tell any of you to check in your stuff. If you can take what I give out, I'll teach you as much basketball as you're capable of learning.'

"So he started practice, and we practiced and practiced and practiced … seemed like it was getting close to 10:30-11:00 at night. Finally he blew his whistle, and I thought we were going in. He lined us up on one end of Gallagher Hall, and we did dashes from one end to the other, forward, backwards, I don't know how long. And then he'd blow his whistle, and we started circling the gym. He said, 'I'll let you know when to quit.' And we ran and ran and ran. I'll never forget that."
Parks says he found a friend in the midst of their suffering.

"Blake Williams, who turned out to be a pretty good guard and a good buddy of mine, he was dragging. Blake said, 'I can't do this.' I said, 'Come on, we've got one more round and he'll stop.' I kept Blake going. Finally, when Mr. Iba said quit, Blake went out in the hall and threw up."

Williams wasn't the only one.

"Man, the next day I could hardly walk. I was so sore. At the end of that first night of practice, I don't know how many guys checked in their stuff … must have been 30 or 40 of them."

The conditioning (and attrition) continued for several more days.

"When it got down to about 30 guys, Mr. Iba didn't do that anymore," Parks says. "We did do some exercises. He'd have us run up the stairs in the balcony, and occasionally he'd take us out to football field and we'd run up and down the bleachers out there. After about four or five days of that, he got serious about basketball."

Parks says there wasn't much time or energy left for a social life outside of the gym.

"We tried to rest. When school let out, we were doing three-a-days. Three practices — one in the morning, one in the afternoon and we'd scrimmage, probably equal to two games at night.

"I'll tell you what, we were in good shape. After a game I never felt like we even worked out hardly. After the practices we did, to play a ballgame was a pleasure because you weren't even tired after the game."

Iba's squad was anchored by returning All-American Bob Kurland, the game-changing seven-footer from Missouri, and (Cecil) Hankins, a multi-sport star who helped A&M win Cotton and Sugar Bowl championships. Weldon Kerns, a junior transfer from Cameron University in Lawton, was another proven scorer.

"Kurland was a shy guy," Parks says. "He was smart, he was very intelligent and we fit in with him. In my opinion, if guys don't get along or don't fit for one reason or another — like personality or ego or whatever — they seem to not do too well as a team. But Kurland took us all under his wing during that time, particularly us freshmen."

With World War II taking many of the able-bodied men overseas (Kurland was deemed too tall for military duty), college freshmen were eligible — and needed — to play on the varsity squad during the '40s. Even so, Parks thought he was destined to be a practice player.

"The old timers that had been there awhile told me that if Mr. Iba puts a red shirt on you, you're at the bottom of the list," Parks recalls. "When he started his first practice, I was the first one he called to put a red shirt on. And so I accepted that. Every night, before we ever played a ball game, I was in a red shirt."

Still, Parks says he tried to soak up everything Iba taught about the game of basketball.

"We didn't have much coaching in my little Class B school. In fact, my senior year, the superintendent had to coach just to have somebody on the sideline. We'd just run and shoot, that's about all we did. When I got up to Stillwater, I was lost. So when I was wearing that red shirt, I listened. I learned more basketball just listening while he was trying to teach the boys he thought might be starters."

The opener on the 1944-45 Oklahoma A&M schedule was a road game at Phillips University.

"We went over to Enid, and Mr. Iba took everybody that was out for basketball. I was the last one he put in the game … The next night we went out to practice, and he called my name to go out with the starting five. It was a complete shock. I don't know what he saw in me, but he saw something I guess."

Parks became a fixture on the now-sacred white maple floor of Gallagher Hall.

"I started every game after that until the second semester when Doyle Parrack and Hankins came out after football. By the way, Hankins is probably the best athlete I've ever seen, all around. He lettered in football, track and basketball. He was just a natural athlete.

"When they came back, he'd start Doyle, and I guess within a minute, minute-and-a-half, I'd be in and play the rest of the game. Never bothered me. I don't know what Doyle thought about it, but he was used at forward or would give the other guard a rest."

In modern terminology, Parks would've been a point guard — a position that's seen a number of notable players don the orange and black for Oklahoma State.

"My strength was handling the ball, getting it down the floor safe without turning it over. We had plays we practiced and practiced and practiced on bringing the ball in under a full court press … I could cover pretty well on defense. We didn't shoot much. Kurland did most of the shooting, along with the forwards. The rest of us were ball handlers and defensive people.

"Back then, the game dictated big centers … Our offense was built around getting the ball inside and playing good defense. Of course, you didn't have to shoot the ball in 30 seconds. We could handle the ball for two or three minutes without even taking a shot if we had to. Mr. Iba believed in good defense, handling the ball and not turning it over."

During a game, Iba had little patience for errors, Parks says.

"I know one thing, if you made a glaring mistake or a guy would get around you, man, Mr. Iba would jerk somebody up off their seat … We had those warmups that slipped over your head. He'd just grab it and rip it off your head and say, 'Get in there for this guy!'"

Parks didn't get the hook very often. And Iba's squad didn't get beaten very often.

"Playing for Mr. Iba, you never thought you'd lose," Parks says. "We lost four games my freshman year and two my sophomore year."

Although he jokes that "Barbara gave me a good left hook," J.L. Parks actually lost two of his front teeth due to an inadvertent elbow during a jump ball against a taller opponent his freshman season.

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY

The Aggies took the 1945 NCAA title, 49-45, over New York University. Back home in Stillwater, students celebrated on campus.

"We were up in New York, and there's no big celebration," Parks recalls. "Mr. Iba was happy to win, but he reminded us that we were still in training until we got home … and then he tells us the women's dormitories turned the women out and they were having a big dance over at the old gym. They're having fun, and we're up here."

Two nights later, A&M took on National Invitational Tournament champion DePaul in a Red Cross benefit game that drew more than 18,000 fans to Madison Square Garden. In a matchup of hall of fame big men, Kurland out-dueled 6'9" George Mikan, and the Aggies topped the Blue Demons, 52-44, and brought the NCAA tournament out of the NIT's shadow.

Bolstered by war vets A.L. Bennett and Sam Aubrey, the 1946 lineup was just as formidable, finishing the year at 32-2 with a 43-40 title-game triumph over North Carolina.

In Parks' first two seasons, OAMC had earned two NCAA championship banners — the first school to win back-to-back basketball titles.

Overseas, the drums of war pounded on.

"After the 1945 tournament, I was still 17 so I wasn't draft age," Parks says. "I had to register when I turned 18."

As a college student, Parks was granted a one-year deferment.

"Near the end my sophomore year, I got the draft notice again," he recalls. "The war had ended in '45, and that was April of '46. I decided I had to get out of school because if you pass your physical, they take you straight to boot camp. Sure enough, they loaded me on a bus and took me to Camp Chaffee, Ark., and on to Little Rock where I took basic.

"And then they shipped me overseas."

Parks was stationed in Tokyo as part of the Allied occupation of Japan, led by General Douglas A. MacArthur.

"I was with the U.S. Army, assigned to an M.P. (Military Police) company. Then I went to work for the Criminal Investigation Department of the Army.

"At 18, going on 19, I had a pretty good deal," Parks adds. "I got to wear civilian clothes and had my own Jeep. It was interesting work. We had a bunch of civilians coming over there working for the government so we would investigate crimes committed against the United States or our soldiers."

Parks spent about a year in post-war Japan before the U.S. began scaling back its armed forces.

"I was supposed to serve for two years, but after 17 months they sent me home early. I got back in the middle of September. School had already started, and I told my mother, 'I just got home, I need to recuperate.' I was thinking I wouldn't go back to school until the next year. I'd rest and have fun."

Coach Iba got wind of Parks' homecoming and summoned him to Stillwater.

"I walked in his office, he jumped up and said, 'Well, welcome home, son … Now take this (enrollment form) and go check into school and be at practice tonight.'

"You can't say no to Mr. Iba. So I went over and checked into school and called my mom to send me some clothes."

A year-and-a-half removed from Iba practices, Parks says he gained a few pounds in the service.

"I tell you what, I wasn't in that good of shape. I think the first night out I pulled a muscle. I had to slow it down for two or three days until I got the thing worked out. After that, it didn't take long to get back into real good shape."

The 1947-48 squad featured another skilled center, though not quite as tall as Kurland. Parks says the 6-foot-7-inch Bob Harris was known for his defensive skills.

"Bob was not only a nice guy, but he was a good ballplayer," Parks says. "He was a great defensive center and rebounder. He was a decent scorer, but he could move pretty good. He'd have made a great high jumper because he could really jump."

The Aggies finished the season 27-4, falling to Kansas State in the NCAA Regional.

"I thought we had a pretty decent team," Parks says. "It's like any defeat when you're playing. It hurt. I suffered any time we lost a game, even during the regular season. I couldn't figure out how we lost. We were supposed to win. But some nights you get cold, you can't hit the basket."

HOWDY, PARTNER

At 90, Parks lives in Houston with his wife of 68 years, Barbara (Jones). The pair met as students at Oklahoma A&M, but Parks says he saw her first.

"Blake and I went to Varsity Review my junior year … We were sitting in the crowd like two idiots, and anyway, I told Blake, 'That's the gal I think I'll marry.' I had no idea I'd ever meet her."

In the fall of 1948, Parks and a few buddies attended the annual "Howdy Dance" at the OAMC Armory and Gymnasium.

"First of the school year they always had a get acquainted dance at the old gym," Parks recalls. "So I was over there standing around with a bunch of football players — Bill Long was one of them — and she was dancing with somebody … I said, 'I think I'll go cut in on him.'

"Of course, the guys I knew before I went in the service didn't know I danced. I learned to dance while I was in Tokyo. They said, 'She's not going to dance with you,' and I said, 'Oh yeah?' … So we bet 10 dollars on it. I didn't even have 10 bucks on me. That was a lot of money."

Parks tapped Barbara's dance partner politely on the shoulder.

"So he steps aside. She didn't even know who I was when I introduced myself. Barbara wasn't a basketball fan at that time. She and I danced a little bit around the floor. I came back and got my money … In a little while I said, 'Well, I think I'll go ask her for a date.' 'You ain't gonna get a date! Give us a chance to get our money back. Double or nothing.' So I didn't have anything to lose.

"I went over to Barbara and said, 'There's a new night club opening. If you're available, I'd like to take you.' And she said, 'Sure', just like that."

Parks collected another 10-spot from his friends.

"She didn't find out about it until our 50th anniversary," Parks laughs. "One of the guys that lost the money got up and got to telling on me, and she was shocked. She asked me what I did with that twenty dollars. I said, 'I spent it on you at the night club.'"

The couple dated their senior year in Stillwater, but Coach Iba made his priorities clear to the team.

"He'd always tell us, 'You're up here for one reason — to get an education. The second is to play basketball … I don't want to see you walking across campus carrying some little ol' girl's books. Keep your mind on your studies and on basketball.'"

In 1949, Parks became not only the first collegiate player to participate in three NCAA Final Fours, but three championship games.

With a 23-4 record and No. 2 national ranking, Iba's Aggies faced Adolph Rupp's top-ranked Kentucky team in Seattle for the title. On a cold shooting night, OAMC fell to the Wildcats, 46-36.

"We just didn't play well against Kentucky," Parks admits. "They had a great team, but we just didn't play well. Our center fouled out right after the second half started. Back then, you only had four fouls and were out of the ballgame."

Immediately following the loss, Parks flew to the Big Apple to play in the New York Herald Tribune East vs. West All-Star game at The Garden. The victorious Wildcats happened to be on the same cross-country flight.

"The Kentucky team was pretty loud on that plane." he says. "I recall that Rupp didn't mince words. He used some pretty foul language."

After the all-star game, Parks and the participants were invited to a reception at a downtown hotel. Some famous ladies were also on the guest list.

"They had invited the Rockettes over after their last show to come and mingle with us. I got acquainted with one of them … She was getting ready to go and was going to walk — she lived about a block from the hotel. I said, 'Would you like me to walk you home?' She said, 'Sure, if you don't mind.' So I walked her home. I came on back to the hotel and thought I better call Barbara and report in."

Barbara was an Oklahoma City native whose family moved out west to Clinton, Okla., for health reasons during the Dust Bowl days. At OAMC, she lived on the second floor of Willard Hall, a women's dormitory at the time. The residents shared one telephone per floor.

"You can imagine trying to get ahold of her with one phone and a bunch of women. Any time you'd call that floor it would be busy. You couldn't get in."

So Parks called his girlfriend … at 2:30 a.m.

"He hadn't even told me goodbye when he left," Barbara says. "I was kind of unhappy with him ... and then at 2:30 in the morning he called Willard Hall. The house mother answered the phone and got me to come downstairs and talk to my friend that was calling from New York City. And he was calling to tell me that he had just come back from a date with a Rockette!"

Parks offers this frail defense:

"They didn't wait on me to go to Seattle. When time came to board the bus to go to the airport, we had to go. And I told her I didn't want somebody else telling you I had a date with a girl … Honesty is the best policy."

"Wasn't that nice of him? At 2:30 in the morning!"

Earning a degree in chemistry from Oklahoma A&M, Barbara had plans to become a hospital dietician, with a post-graduate internship lined up in Memphis.

Meanwhile, Parks had been drafted by the Denver Chevrolets of the National Industrial Basketball League, part of the Amateur Athletic Union.

"I was going to Denver to play so I said, 'I probably won't see you again … why don't you just go with me and marry me?' She said okay.

"I played three years for the Denver team, and then Bud Adams called me from Houston. He had started a team in that league (the Ada Oilers) and asked me if I was interested in coming down and playing.

"The old National Industrial Basketball League was sponsored by corporations so everybody worked for those companies. Bartlesville was the Phillips 66ers; Peoria, Ill., had the Caterpillars; nine Chevrolet dealers sponsored a team in Denver called the Chevrolets ("Chevvies") … Fibber McGee and Molly was an old radio show for years, and they sponsored a team in Los Angeles. Oakland, Albuquerque, Akron … I can't remember all those teams, but we had a pretty good league."

Parks played three years in Houston before television began to alter the landscape of professional and amateur basketball.

"Television came along and wanted to sign the league to a TV contract to show the games," Parks recalls. "At that point, we'd be considered pro, and the owners didn't want to do it. They turned it down. And that's when the television money went to the NBA. They saved the NBA."

Parks remained in Houston, retiring after 33 years in the marketing department of Adams Resources and Energy. In remarkably good health in his 10th decade on earth, Parks still enjoys taking his bride out to dinner and sporting a championship ring from his playing days.

"I look back, and I wouldn't trade anything for what I went through, the experiences the enjoyment of playing for Mr. Iba and the school."