In 1988, The Centennial History of Hurricane, WV was published to commemorate the town’s 100th anniversary. Since the Centennial History is now out of print, the Breeze is reprinting articles from the book as space allows. This week’s selection will be the 186th installment of the Centennial History.
DR. RALPH W. PARKER … FRIEND TO ALL
Submitted by Irene Ambler
Dr. Ralph Wendell Parker, the son of Clarence and Alice Parker of Newark, Ohio, arrived in Hurricane, West Virginia, on April 10, 1940, equipped with nothing more than the clothes on his back, about a dollar in his pocket, a wealth of love and compassion for the human race and a goal to do the most he could for every living person with whom he came into contact. He also had what was most important – an osteopathic degree from the college at Kirksville, Missouri, and a knowledge and honesty that would have made him an ideal member of any community.
Upon arriving in Hurricane he inquired as to where he could find a sleeping room. He was told that Mrs. Zula McGhee furnished lodging for several teachers and that perhaps she could accommodate him. This, Mrs. McGhee did far beyond the call of duty. She, her son Cline and her two daughters, Helen and Ruth, and later Helen’s husband, William Robinson Bias, made him a member of their family, much the same as if he had been born or married into the McGhee family. Dr. Parker made his home there until many years later at which time he purchased the former W.E. Thompson house at the corner of Putnam and Reynolds, where he equipped offices and also established a residence for himself and his widowed mother, who was by then unable to reside alone in Newark.
Doc – everyone called him “Doc” – opened his first office in Hurricane in 1940 in a small building adjacent to the Masonic Hall on Putnam Avenue, furnishing it with a little stand table, an old couch and two chairs. Another local doctor gave him a medical bag. Things didn’t start out too well for Dr. Parker, possibly because he was such a quiet, unassuming personality and because he had such a youthful countenance.
He bought an old Model A Ford after a time; and he commissioned Lloyd “Ambish” Chapman to chauffeur him around to acquaint him with the many dusty or muddy hill and hollow roads in the Hurricane area. Doc and Ambish became a familiar sight in the community rumbling around in the mud-spattered Model A. It didn’t take Dr. Parker very long to become well established; and before long he was making many house calls, spending unbelievably long hours tending the sick and delivering babies. One year, he had the record of delivering more babies than any other doctor in the State of West Virginia.
Dr. Parker practiced medicine in Hurricane for almost thirty-five years, religiously maintaining an integrity and decency uncommon and unknown to many. If he ever refused medical care to anyone because of the lack of funds it is not known. He is known to have delivered six children to one family, receiving no pay for the youngest while still waiting his fee for delivering the eldest.
He remained in Hurricane during the entire tenure of his service to humanity, working until 1974 or 1975 at which time he was forced to retire because of a series of strokes. He was taken to Morris Memorial Hospital after it became impossible for him to live alone. He never married and his nearest living relative when he died was a cousin. Yet, he had a family of his own in the form of hundreds of grateful, respectful and loving friends.
Dr. Ralph Wendell Parker died in St. Mary’s Hospital on May 5, 1980. Funeral services were conducted at St. Francis of Assisi Church in St. Albans on May 8. Four of his best friends – E.E. “Tony” Allen, mortician, William R. Bias, and Mr. and Mrs. Ray Henderson accompanied him back to Newark, Ohio, where he is buried.
Much hard work and effort by many people went into the compilation of The Centennial History of Hurricane, WV. Published in 1988, the history incorporated family and business histories and local history. All this information was enclosed in a beautiful red and gold hardback volume, the pride of anyone wise enough to have purchased it. Unfortunately, the book is now out of print, so finding a copy will be difficult, if not impossible. It is a great shame that many do not know the existence of this fine book, so the Breeze is reprinting the articles in serialized form as space allows.
A digital copy of the Centennial History can be obtained from the Hurricane City Hall for a small donation. For more information, call the City of Hurricane at (304) 562-5896.