Wayland Family rallied around ill student, others

Release Date: February 1, 2009    

PLAINVIEW – Stepping up to help those in need is not uncommon for a Christian organization. But in the case of one event from Wayland Baptist University’s history, an act of Christian service would serve to inspire future generations and have far-reaching effects.

It was 1969 when Larry Parks and his wife, Mona, moved to Plainview from Centerville, Ohio, to earn a degree in religion, recommended to the little West Texas school by his own preacher, longtime Plainview pastor Joe Weldon. Called to be a pastor himself, Larry worked in construction to help pay his way through school and the family – which then included two young daughters – lived in school housing. He later took on the janitorial duties at First Baptist Church in Petersburg.

The Parkses had only lived in Plainview a few months, and Larry was well into his first full-time semester of classes when he began feeling badly. Reporting extreme fatigue, he visited a doctor, who told the young couple Larry’s kidneys were operating at five percent function and he would need dialysis immediately and eventually a transplant. Such procedures were not as common in those days and dialysis not as readily available as is currently the case.

With extended family and more medical facilities in Ohio, Larry’s Plainview doctor suggested the Parkses return to their home state for the impending treatment. They left in late November 1969, with Larry finishing most of his courses early in order to leave town.

As is often the case, the Wayland family rallied to prayer on Parks’ behalf, with Dr. Paul Butler – then Dean of Students – making the announcement at a weekly chapel service. Near the end of the service, a student rose to speak, announcing he felt called to stay and pray for Larry and welcomed others to do the same. According to Butler, not one person left. Ten minutes later, when Butler stood again to remind the students of nearing class times, a young lady stood to speak.

It seemed she had read that very day about the Betty Crocker Company offering a dialysis machine in exchange for box-top coupons. She couldn’t remember the amount, but Butler said he knew it would be a daunting task. Another student stood to offer encouragement, thinking the idea would be at least worth a try.

“Within the week our hopes went from sky-high to rock-bottom when we discovered the number of coupons needed in order to obtain a dialysis machine: Six-hundred thousand. Obviously an impossible task. Nevertheless we were committed,” Butler wrote in his memories of the event. “Students wrote to parents, and parents asked friends, and the coupons began trickling in by ones and twos. The thermometer we designed to show our progress was five feet tall, and after two weeks, it had only an inch of red at the bottom.”

Things were soon to change. A TV station in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex picked up the story, and radio stations around Texas grabbed the news as well. A military radio program carried a feature on the effort, and coupons began arriving at Wayland from all over the world. By the fourth week, 100,000 had been collected, and the number doubled two weeks later. Boxes of the box-tops came to the campus as word spread of the effort. The 600,000 goal was met quickly and passed just as rapidly.

The dialysis machine was received as promised, but by then Larry Parks was the owner of a new kidney, receiving his transplant in February 1970. The machine went to Ohio anyway and was given to a patient in need there.

Since the coupons kept coming in, the Wayland students kept cashing them in for medical equipment. The local hospital received a heart-monitoring machine, additional equipment was purchased and Parks said the school even was able to send a bus to an Indian reservation in Nebraska... all from Betty Crocker coupons.

Eventually, Butler said, Betty Crocker cried “uncle” and had to quit honoring the coupon deal. The school had collected a total of six million coupons and thousands of trading stamp books which Sperry Rand converted to cash to help Larry and his family cover their medical bills.

Though his surgery was a success – Larry was released from the hospital four weeks after surgery after being warned the normal hospital stay was 12 weeks – the Parkses stayed in Ohio for the rest of the year. And though some thought they’d stay in their home state, Larry said he and God had different plans.

“God had brought us there, and He’d already planned everything out for us,” Parks said. “He worked in such a way for us that that’s where we wanted to be.”

So in January 1971, Larry and Mona returned to Plainview, helped in large part by a year’s free tuition and free rent in a house near the campus owned by Claude Hutcherson’s sister. Parks pastored in Finney Switch for part of his school years and finished his degree at the end of 1973. As one last show of support for the family, the university gave Larry a check for $1,500 to help them with travel expenses and their move to Louisville, Ky.

Larry then earned a master’s degree from Southern Seminary in 1977. He took the pastorate of a small church in rural Georgia for the next few years before returning to his home state of Ohio. He’s been a bivocational pastor of Cook Road Baptist Church in Lucasville for nearly 29 years. Wife Mona is a registered nurse who worked in the Ohio prison system for many years.

The Wayland legacy didn’t end there for the Parks family. Daughter Dawn married Wayland alumnus Clay Burdette, and daughter Sherri earned her degree at WBU like her father. Their third daughter Jolynda married Clay’s brother Henry Burdette, and son Shane lives in Alaska and works for the Army.

Though the Parkses weren’t around to witness first-hand the miracle of the Betty Crocker coupons, they knew about the whole thing as it was happening. And the effort of the Wayland student body wasn’t lost on the family.

Larry said the experience taught them endurance, reliance on God and the value of true ministry to those in need. Consequently, he said, the couple’s ministry for the past 30 years has been marked by outreach efforts, in the small town where they live and beyond.

“Real Christian people, regardless of where they are, they reach out,” said Larry, who still gets emotional about the story even 30-plus years after it happened. “When we needed it the most, they did the most for us. It reached all the way to Ohio.”