by Jean Kline
Born May 29, 1883, in Denver, Colorado, George Alexander Parks first came to Alaska in 1907, as a cadastral engineer (a mapmaker) after graduation from the Colorado School of Mines. He worked as a mineral examiner, for the U.S. Land Office from 1908 to 1917, and was chief of the Land Office from 1920 to 1923. He was the assistant supervisor of surveys, Public Lands for Alaska in Anchorage, 1924 to 1926. Part of his duties included helping to lay out the emerging city of Anchorage. During World War I, Mr. Parks worked in a chemical warfare division and eventually attained the rank of captain.
In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge appointed Parks as Alaska’s Territorial Governor. He was reappointed by President Herbert Hoover in 1929, and served in that post until 1933, when he was succeeded by John Troy, then editor and publisher of the Daily Alaska Empire.
While governor, Parks instigated the territorial flag contest to design the Alaska state flag. The contest was eventually won by Benny Benson of Cordova. The flag design was adopted by the Legislature in 1927.
Governor Parks saw the importance of aviation to the development of Alaska. He was the first governor to fly to the Lower 48 and was instrumental in building many airstrips in bush communities. To help the territory attain a certain degree of self-sufficiency, Governor Parks encouraged the development of agriculture in the Matanuska Valley.
Parks received a distinguished service award from the Department of the Interior after his eight years as governor. He then returned to service with the federal government and worked again as a mapmaker for the Bureau of Land Management until his retirement in 1949. He was an avid outdoorsman. He diversified his business interests by buying real estate and stock in the R.J. Sommers Construction Co. of Juneau, and also worked part time for the company. Sommers Construction built the first building at the University of Alaska, Juneau, as well as many bridges and airfields around the state.
He showed interest and compassion for people especially children. He served as master counselor of Demolay, was active with both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and over the years supported a series of Korean orphans. He also put up the money to build and maintain a school in a remote area of Tennessee.
On the occasion of his 99th birthday, in 1982, Dora Sweeney, his secretary for 24 years remarked, “I’ve known him since I was little; he’s always been a very kind and generous man.” Vern Metcalfe recalled him as a very modest, self-effacing individual. “He always walked around town wearing his engineer’s hat and always ate breakfast at the Baranof Hotel at 10 o’clock every morning, you could practically set your watch on it.”
An artifacts collector for many years, Parks donated his collection to the Alaska State Museum. He also donated many of his old books and papers to UAJ including the report setting the modern boundary between Alaska and Canada.
In 1982, when asked his opinion on Alaska government, Parks said, “I think we have a wonderful governor and things are going well. I just wish everyone would pull together and not six ways from Sunday.”
At his birthday celebration, Governor Parks said, “If they told me at age 70 that I’d live to 99 I wouldn’t have believed them. God has been good to me; I feel great.”
George Parks was a member of the Northern Light United Church, the Elks, the Masons and was the only honorary life member of Igloo No. 6 Pioneers of Alaska. In recognition of his accomplishments, Parks was awarded an honorary arts and letters degree from the University of Alaska in 1976, and the road from Anchorage to Fairbanks was named the George A. Parks Highway.
A man of many accomplishments, yet modest and caring, George Parks died in May, 1984.