Community recalls giving nature of late teacher

Trigg County High School science teacher Simone Whipple Parker, 46, died on Jan. 2 of complications from the coronavirus.

The little boy played “moose ears” with his friend every morning.

The friend would put her thumbs on her head and wiggle her fingers.

He would mimic the gesture.

Together the little boy, 6-year-old Ayven Gilbert, and his friend, Trigg County High School science teacher Simone Whipple Parker, had a special bond, said his mother Stephanie Gilbert.

An art teacher and Parker’s colleague at the high school, Gilbert recently had to explain Parker’s death to her son, and the shared daily ritual helped get the message across to Ayven, a special needs youth.

“Oh, my moose friend died,” Gilbert recalled of her son’s understanding.

Parker, 46, died on Jan. 2 of complications from the coronavirus, and the local community has been mourning the passing of a woman that those who knew her say was an extremely caring, loving, down-to-earth person who gave of herself, not only in the classroom, but beyond its walls as well.

Colleague Brandy Woodall King described Parker as Trigg County’s Mother Teresa.

“She didn’t birth kids because the Lord knew she would need to mother more kids than she could physically birth,” observed King, a language arts teacher at the high school. “She had a heart the size of Texas and was strong enough to support an entire community. No one can replace her.”

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear remembered Parker in his media briefing on Monday.

“That wreath that hangs on the front of this capitol that lights up green every night is going to be lit in honor of Simone Parker and everyone else we’ve lost,” said Beshear, asking people to continue to light up their homes in green for Parker and all the families who have been affected by the coronavirus.

The governor noted that Parker was described by everyone who knew her as an extraordinary educator, as one who was often found taking care of her kids both in and out of the classroom.

“(She did) whatever was needed to help them succeed,” he said during his address.

Trigg County High School principal Shannon Burcham said Parker was a great influence on a lot of students and was able to connect with students who at times were difficult to reach.

“She helped get some kids through school, into college and beyond,” said Burcham, noting that Parker had an impact on youth who were challenged by life. “She found good in every kid she worked with.”

The principal said Parker drew inspiration from former Trigg County educators Robbie Shelby and Shelton and Martha Bowen. Shelby ignited a passion for science and chemistry in her students, and the Bowens, as Parker had done more recently, broadened students’ experiences with trips to Europe.

Typically at this time of year, Burcham said Parker would have been taking the members of her Interact Club to Nashville, where they would enjoy a nice restaurant and then go on to the symphony.

The Interact Club is a volunteer community service organization operating through the Rotary Club, and it was started at the school by Parker, who instilled a passion for service in her kids, Gilbert said.

The art teacher said the club will continue, something she said the kids want to happen.

Parker’s European trips helped open the kids’ minds to other parts of the world, noted Trigg County District Judge Jamus Redd, a lifelong friend who gave the eulogy at Parker’s funeral on Saturday.

Services and visitation took place at Goodwin Funeral Home in Cadiz, with family and friends, along with students and educators from the community coming together to celebrate Parker’s life.

“Simone’s impact, particularly at the school system, is immeasurable,” Redd said of his friend, noting that she was always there to help her students and very much available to them on an emotional level.

“She and her husband were not able to have children, and they decided early on that she would pour herself into her students as her children, said Redd of William and Simone Parker, who were married for 23-plus years.

Redd said Parker put others ahead of herself in so many ways, and Dottie Hiter, a special education teacher at the high school who walked past Parker’s classroom every morning on the way to her own, echoed his sentiment. Parker, she said, gave of herself “any which way she could.”

She crocheted blankets for students and faculty who had babies and crocheted hats for premature babies. After Parker’s death, Hiter found a bag of the hats and said they’ll be donated to a hospital.

Gilbert remembers her good friend as someone who was always there to talk with you, as extremely caring and as just a really special individual who had a spirit, a passion and a love for her kids.

“She was just about as good a person as you’re ever going to find,” Gilbert said.

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

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