By CHERIL VERNON
A former superintendent and principal who has worked at several schools in East Texas will be celebrating his 80th birthday Sunday with a special “Walk Through Memories” celebration.
Family, friends, former students and staff are invited to attend the birthday celebration for Marcellus Parrish from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Neches Community Center.
Parrish served as superintendent of Neches Independent School District from 1977 to 1984 and also was superintendent of Mabank Independent School District in 1970 until his appointment to Neches.
Many local residents also will remember Parrish as serving as principal at Westwood High School from 1965 to 1969.
“I am looking forward to people sharing their memories. It's a chance to see so many people — former students and staff that I worked with,” Parrish said during an interview with the Herald-Press this week. “It's neat to still live here. It's always a pleasure to visit with former students and know about their lives and their accomplishments.”
At Westwood High School, Parrish was given a special nickname “Twinkle Toes.”
“They gave me the nickname because I was able to silently walk up on students to see what they were doing,” Parrish joked. “I still have former students from there call me 'Twinkle Toes.'”
Parrish grew up in the Brushy Creek community and attended school at the Brushy Creek School before it became a part of the Frankston Independent School District. Several educators during that time inspired him in his education career including former coach and principal J.C. Hicks, superintendent A.B. Awalt and vocational agriculture teacher Wilbur Phifer.
Many people still remember Parrish's accomplishments on the basketball court for the Frankston Indians.
“I was one of the starting players and I was known for my height,” Parrish joked. “I was 6'4 and less than 150 pounds.”
One of his grandsons followed in the family tradition on the basketball court. Grandson Cayne Parrish was a basketball starter during his last two years at Frankston High School (2004-05).
After graduating from Frankston High School, Parrish went to Henderson County Junior College (now Trinity Valley Community College) and continued his education at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville where he received a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Education.
In 1956, Parrish married his high school sweetheart, Elda Gatlin.
“Life without her would be nothing. She carried me through, even in college,” Parrish said.
He saw his future wife for the first time while standing in his grandfather's front yard.
“She and her family were moving into the community that we lived in. My grandpa said, 'There goes your girlfriend,'” Parrish recalled, noting they later met formally when school started at Frankston High School and eventually started dating.
Parrish began his teaching career at Trinity Independent School District, teaching match and science. In 1960, he became the high school principal and coached girls' basketball.
In the 1960s, opportunity knocked. Having purchased land in Anderson County and wanting to continue his career in education and be able to enjoy farming and ranching, he was offered the chance to be the principal at Westwood High School.
“I just saw a former Westwood student at a doctor's office today and we had a good time visiting,” Parrish said during the interview with the Herald-Press this week. “ I always enjoy running into students.”
In 1969, Parrish made a career change. Always enjoying buying and selling automobiles, he had the opportunity to become owner of a Chevrolet dealership in Troup.
However, education was still in his blood, as well as his love for children and watching their development, which led him back into education.
In 1970, Parrish became superintendent of Mabank Independent School District.
“There was a lot of growth in the school at this time as Cedar Creek Lake was busy with a lot of development,” Parrish said.
During the seven-year time period he was at Mabank ISD, the student enrollment numbers went from 600 to more than 1,300.
Needing to be closer to his elderly parents to help care for them, Parrish became superintendent of Neches ISD in 1977.
Since this was a smaller community, he was afforded the opportunity to also be a part of the student activities and know them personally while leading the school district to greater accomplishments.
“Neches was a lot smaller school than Mabank ISD. I really enjoyed those seven years at Neches because I was able to interact with the students and teachers more, which made it very enjoyable,” Parrish said.
It was during his time at Neches that the old red elementary school in Neches that was built in 1935 was renovated. Students in grades kindergarten through sixth grade were moved to that campus, while grades 7-12 remained at the newer campus across the railroad tracks which housed the junior high and high school students.
(Historical note: Students remained in the old red elementary school until the fall of 2009, when students in grades K-8 moved to a new elementary and junior high campus, closing the old red school, which was eventually demolished.)
During his time as superintendent, Parrish was active in the Texas Association of Community Schools and served one year as president of the association.
In 1984, he retired from public education, ending his career at the helm of Neches ISD. In 1998, his wife Elda retired from Neches ISD as the superintendent's secretary.
Parrish and his family have been connected to the Neches community for a total of 36 years, still attending church in Neches.
Retirement created a time for travel, making new friends and visiting with friends. The Parrishes have taken an annual trip to Colorado almost every year since 1989.
In every community he lived, Parrish and his family have always been involved in church activities. He is quick to give God the credit for his life and accomplishments.
One of the greatest blessings in their lives has been the enjoyment of their two children (Dwayne, born in 1961 and Michele, born in 1968), five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
“We are blessed to have the children reside close,” Parrish said.
In the 1980s, Parrish was able to build a new home on his family's old homeplace.
“When I was a freshman in college, my daddy and uncle cut timber on the place,” Parrish said. “In 1980, we tore my parents' house down but used some of the siding on the new home.”
The land has been in the Parrish family for close to 100 years.
“It was my grandpa's and then my daddy's,” Parrish said.
Through the mid-1990s, Parrish raised cows, corn and peanuts on the property.
These days, Parrish enjoys traveling, as well as fishing and hunting. He also enjoys spending time with their family and reading through the interesting tidbits his wife finds while doing genealogical research.
The Neches Community Center is located north of the elementary and junior high campus on FM 19 in Neches.
The family requests no gifts, just “memories.”