People to be thankful for: Winfield resident to retire after more than 40 years at DuPage Care Center in Wheaton

People to be thankful for: Winfield resident to retire after more than 40 years at DuPage Care Center in Wheaton

  • DuPage Care Center recreation therapy coordinator Henry Parker of Winfield is retiring after 40 years on the job in Wheaton. Parker is held up as someone to be thankful for in terms of his decades of enriching the lives of DuPage County residents who need long-term care.

      DuPage Care Center recreation therapy coordinator Henry Parker of Winfield is retiring after 40 years on the job in Wheaton. Parker is held up as someone to be thankful for in terms of his decades of enriching the lives of DuPage County residents who need long-term care. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted12/2/2021 6:00 AM

"I've heard many people tell me the most exciting time of their lives was when they came here. They never had such a social life." -- Henry Parker, recreation therapy coordinator at DuPage Care Center

Winfield resident Henry Parker is facing a Dec. 24 retirement date from the DuPage Care Center in Wheaton.

 

As the recreation therapy coordinator, Parker has devoted decades to enriching the lives of DuPage County residents who are living through long-term or short-term rehabilitation.

"I really have loved being here. It has been the treasure of my life," said Parker, 67, who commemorated his 40th anniversary on the job this past August. "My wife said I'm going to find it difficult to leave."

DuPage Care Center recreation therapy coordinator Henry Parker of Winfield, right, is retiring after 40 years on the job in Wheaton.
  DuPage Care Center recreation therapy coordinator Henry Parker of Winfield, right, is retiring after 40 years on the job in Wheaton. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Parker was hired in 1981 as a woodworking instructor by what was then called the DuPage Convalescent Center. The county-run facility has a long history stretching back to 1888 when it was founded as the County Alms House for the indigent.

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"I grew up in Germany, where my grandparents raised me, so I've always had an affinity for older people," Parker said. "I felt like I had arrived home. This is my place."

Woodworking only became a part of Parker's many job duties. In addition to the direct care of residents, Parker would also arrange for field trips to concerts at Cantigny Park, to basketball games and stock car races. For a time, there was even a wheelchair hockey team.

"Most people look at a place like this and they say, 'Well, you send someone here if they have a lot of physical problems,'" Parker said. "But people miss the point when they think of a person in that one dimension, because the quality of a person's life is more than just their physical being. Their spiritual being and friendships, being part of a community -- all those things are very important."

Henry Parker, center, helps a gardening resident of the DuPage Care Center (formerly known as the DuPage Convalescent Center) in Wheaton. Parker is retiring after working 40 years as the center's recreation therapy coordinator.
Henry Parker, center, helps a gardening resident of the DuPage Care Center (formerly known as the DuPage Convalescent Center) in Wheaton. Parker is retiring after working 40 years as the center's recreation therapy coordinator. - Daily Herald File Photo, 2010
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But perhaps the most personally rewarding activity for Parker was his drive to help found a garden club for the care center's residents.

Parker made sure that raised garden beds were installed so residents in wheelchairs could participate. Many residents would end up entering their produce into county and state fairs, with a few winning ribbons for their growing efforts.

"The gardeners every year voluntarily give sometimes hundreds of pounds of vegetables, through our garden program, to the homeless shelter," Parker said. "When they are able to do that, it makes them feel great that they are still able to make a contribution to the community."

DuPage Care Center Administrator Janelle Chadwick was full of praise for Parker's work.

"To say he is the heart and soul of the residents' recreational program is an understatement," said Chadwick in a statement about Parker. "He has given his entire professional career to making our most vulnerable residents happier."

Henry Parker at the DuPage Care Center in Wheaton.
  Henry Parker at the DuPage Care Center in Wheaton. - Scott C. Morgan | Staff Photographer

Parker is saddened about care center residents who have passed through the years. But he treasures getting to know many of the residents' stories and providing activities for them despite any physical limitations.

"I've heard many people tell me the most exciting time of their lives was when they came here. They never had such a social life," Parker said. "The difficult things they're going through were turned around because they had such joy in the things they were participating in."

Parker isn't completely saying goodbye to the DuPage Care Center. After his retirement, Parker intends to apply for part-time work at the facility.

"I'll just be putting in some hours every week to help with the garden. It's really become my baby," Parker said. "I'm not going cold turkey. I'm going slowly in making this change."

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