'Living right' for 102 years

Bob Parkinson began teaching Sunday school when he was still a teenager. Back then, Calvin Coolidge was president and Parkinson lived on a South Dakota cattle ranch, a long way from Glendale First United Methodist Church, where he has since become a fixture.

Parkinson turned 102 on Nov. 16, and he still delivers Bible study lessons to a small cadre of students each Sunday. Parkinson said his teaching philosophy is "to just get along. Accept the kid at where he is, and don't try to impose where I am on him."

He said the secret to his longevity is a century of living right.

"This may sound corny to you, but clean living," Parkinson said as he sat on the couch of his tidy home near Brand Park. "Never smoked, never drank…and kept a positive attitude. But I don't think you can rule out genes."

Parkinson's teaching credentials go well beyond Sunday school. He taught high school in Sioux Falls, S.D., for 15 years after earning a bachelor's degree from Dakota Wesleyan University and a master's degree at the University of Iowa. During World War II, he taught military recruits how to build a working radio from a box of loose parts.

When he came west in 1956, he was a regional sales manager for the Wearever Cooking Utensil Co. Though the job paid three times as much as teaching, he said, the travel became difficult with a young family.

In 1960 he began teaching history and English at Verdugo Hills High School, stepping down when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 65. That was in 1973.

"I know I was a sad man when I could no longer go back to teach," he said.

So he didn't stop. He taught adult school at Hollywood High School for a few years and always kept up the Sunday school class at Glendale Methodist.

Parkinson's classes are based on Bible stories and phrases, and he said that perhaps his favorite is John 10:10: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

Bob Gallaher, Glendale Methodist's youth minister, said Parkinson has been a force at the church for decades.

"He's a wonderful teacher, and he's just been a great philanthropist," Gallaher said. "He supported many students through school, and seminary students especially."

Gallaher said Parkinson's class is "a riot. One student, Eunice Caughey, is 103."

Another is Anna Bailey, 86, a close friend of Parkinson's.

The teaching gene runs in the family. Parkinson's wife, Amy, was a school teacher. Their daughters, Lois and Lucille, are both university professors.

"He's just a very generous person who likes to listen to other people," Lois Zamora, Parkinson's daughter, said. "He has cultivated being positive and being enthusiastic; it is just the way he is."

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