Volunteer Spotlight: Mary Parker ’06

For a high schooler growing up in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the idea of attending a small liberal arts school in the middle of Iowa seemed incredibly exotic.

Mary Parker '06 and her wife Erin.
    Mary Parker '06 with wife Erin.

But thanks to a reference librarian mom who encouraged her to check it out, Mary Parker ’06, looked at Grinnell and applied, earning scholarship money in the process. And once Parker arrived on campus, she quickly felt at home.

“Fayetteville High School wasn’t really a place that would have discussed Grinnell,” explains Parker, who teaches French and English at Rogers Heritage High School, outside Fayetteville. “So for someone like me, who had the opportunity to learn about Grinnell and then go there, it was really important to be supported with scholarships.”

Financial aid is one reason why Parker, who along with Patrick Waldo ’06 is co-class fund director, felt strongly about establishing the Class of 2006 Endowed Scholarship. The two successfully led the charge to raise $50,000 last year among their classmates, making their class the youngest to endow a scholarship.  

“When we started meeting in 2015 to plan Reunion, we talked about how we could make a legacy for our class, and we wanted something that we could all work on together,” Parker said. “We decided that we wanted to make it possible for students who couldn’t afford Grinnell to come here.”

The idea behind the scholarship is that diversity on campus comes in many forms, including economic.

“Those perspectives make a difference, and we want to make sure it continues in the future,” Parker said.

Parker lives her credo; she’s in her seventh year teaching at Rogers High School, where the majority of students come from low-income households.

“It’s always an interesting situation,” she said. “It helps that I speak different languages and that I’ve traveled to different places – a lot of the kids haven’t traveled at all, and I can help them negotiate cultural misunderstandings.”

A French major at Grinnell, Parker’s travels include a year spent in rural, northeastern France after graduation, teaching high school English. She came back to Arkansas, worked at the University of Arkansas library and bookstore, then in 2010 returned to school to earn her Master of Arts in teaching.

Married to Erin, an attorney who works for the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas School of Law, Parker recently did a little fundraising of her own via a four-day appearance this past spring on the TV quiz show Jeopardy.

She and her wife, who met in high school at the Arkansas Governor’s School, a summer program for gifted students, were flown to Culver City, California, for the “teacher’s tournament” where Parker placed third and earned $25,000, which will most likely go toward a down payment on a house.

Mary Parker '06 posing with the other Jeopardy contestants for a promo for the Jeopardy Teachers' Tournament
Mary Parker '06 (second from left, bottom row) poses with the other contestants at the Jeopardy Teachers Tournament.

And she’ll continue to fundraise for Grinnell.

“I’m really passionate about Grinnell and all of the opportunities it gave me,” she said. “And the community of Grinnellians is so important to me. I like being in touch with my classmates a few times a year with the class letters – and it’s nice to hear that they look forward to hearing from me.”

—by Anne Stein ’84

For you information:

Mary's class funded for an endowed scholarship to support financial aid. If you are interested in learning more about endowing a fund at Grinnell, please call 866-850-1846.