From Ireland to Plant City….How Parkesdale Farms Began

By Erin Parke Watson

In 1925, the Parke family embarked on an adventure to America from Northern Ireland. Their destination….Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Shortly after their arrival, Bob (Roy’s father) got a job as a landscaper for the wealthy, while Mary Margaret raised the 3 boys: Roy, Jack, and David.

Roy and his younger brother, David.

They lived a simple life: work, the Grange aka the farm, and church.

When World War II broke out, all 3 boys were drafted into the Army. Roy went to basic training at Ft Meade, Maryland and later was stationed in Macon, Georgia as a Drill Sergeant.

R.E. “Roy” Parke, Jr.

Meanwhile, not far away in St. Louis, Missouri, Helen Hayes was going to school and working part time at the local Five & Ten store.

Helen Hayes Parke

As luck would have it, Roy was sent on a Detachment Service to St. Louis. The Army provided tons of pencils and notebooks to the Soldiers, but that didn’t stop them from frequenting the local Five & Ten store to flirt with all of the girls. Helen and Roy instantly connected.

“He was just different”, Helen said.  

6 weeks later they eloped and got married in Macon. This wasn’t because Roy was getting ready to deploy to Germany. He was actually supposed to stay in Macon as a drill sergeant. But the Army had other plans. And off they went on an all-expense paid government honeymoon to…. San Antonio, Texas.  

Roy and Helen

Shortly after settling in San Antonio, Roy got the word that he would be deployed to Germany. After his AIT Training in Louisiana, he spent 2 more weeks with his newly (and recently pregnant) bride before leaving in the Spring of ’44 for Germany.

While in Germany, every day, Roy would sit on the side of the horse cart and write to Helen.

Every. Single. Day.

Helen moved back to St. Louis during her pregnancy with her family. Where Cheryl Parke Meeks was born in Aug of ’45.

After the war was over, most of the soldiers, including Roy, were sent to Paris to de-condition them for life back state-side.

Soon the letters stopped coming and Helen began to worry. Roy made it almost unscathed during the war, but scarlet fever almost took his life while in Paris.

The Vulcania bringing the boys home from war.

After working at the bank for soldiers in Paris, Roy arrived with full fanfare in Philadelphia on the Vulcania in Jan ’46.

Cheryl and Sandee

He and Helen settled down in Greensburg, Pennsylvania with Roy’s parents, Bob and Mary Margaret on their 102-acre farm, named Willow Tree. It is here that daughter, Sandee (Parke) Sytsma, son, Bobby, and daughter, Colleen (Parke) Fulton were born and raised.

Colleen and Bobby

In the Winter of 1956, Bob and Mary Margaret went on a vacation to visit family on the east coast of Florida. Instead of driving back up the coast, they took the longer route through the middle of the state, passing through the small town of Plant City. They found the town fascinating and the name fitting for a farmer. They discovered a small 10-acre piece of land with hopes that Roy and Helen would come to love Florida, too.

And they did!

The Parke clan moved down to Florida in 1957. And on that small 10-acre plot of land, Parkesdale Farms was born.

To Be Continued………because the Parke’s youngest son, Gary, didn’t come until 1963.


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