Violet Coleman Parker

Violet Coleman Parker is a Historic District dweller who embraces the challenge of change. Born at home in 1924, Parker and her five brothers and sisters lived upstairs above their father’s Riverside grocery store until William Coleman lost his store in the years just prior to the Depression.

In 1928 the Coleman family moved into a rental house on the corner of Park and Pinegrove, a home that was made possible partially by the salary of Coleman’s 16-year-old brother. She recalls, “My brother was hired by Southern Bell to climb poles and string wire. There was a lot of that going on then. He retired at 70. Of course, he had not climbed any poles for some time.

“It seemed we had cousins everywhere. Folks came into the city from the countryside because there were still some jobs here. Families pooled money and food so that they could make it through hard times.

“Eventually, my family moved to Arlington where we could get free rent. The Aldermans wanted someone to live as caretakers in a house they owned. The house was fairly rundown, but the property was large and allowed us to have a garden, a cow and some chickens. Actually, thinking back on it, there was something magical in the Arlington surroundings. I could roam freely in the woods and swim in a creek. Mamie Geiger Coleman, my remarkable mother, always found some way to keep a roof over our heads and clothes on our body. She died at 82.

“In 1930 I started school at Arlington Elementary. My older sisters had already taught me to read and write, so I was considered gifted and bumped up a half grade. This happened again until finally I was a year ahead of my age group. There was no problem with this until a teacher found out that I couldn’t use a dipping pen. Evidently I missed the third grade instruction, so I messed up a sheet of paper. To my embarrassment, the teacher took the pen away from me. There were other embarrassments like having to show a free food ticket for lunch.

“My family moved again when I was 10. This time the move took us to Belmont Avenue in San Marco. There were other moves after that and because of them, my education took place in a wide variety of schools: Landon, Kirby-Smith, Andrew Jackson and, finally, Robert E. Lee. I graduated from Lee in 1941 after having had the pleasure of being taught by English teacher Edith Cowles, who saw that I had writing talent and encouraged me to develop it.

“Some time after graduation, I enrolled in a trade school on Ocean Street to study bookkeeping and typing which were the accepted feminine skills. In the afternoon, I helped my 15-year-old brother throw his Times-Union paper route in Riverside. We had a car by then and I could drive from my home in the Brentwood projects. Years later I repeated the paper delivery experience with my son.

“My aunt who subscribed to the T-U saw an ad that said there were jobs opening at NAS.  I went there and took the test and scored high enough to be hired by the Army Corps of Engineers. In the summer of 1942, I received six weeks of training in drafting from an elderly architect. This was very helpful as my first job was making maps. A few months after the initial six weeks of training, I was sent to Key West where the Corps was creating a safe turning basin for American ships because there were many German submarines lurking in the waters nearby.

“I had to plot soundings in the harbor and spent many days out in boats surrounded by pile drivers. At one point I got a really nasty sunburn, but that was just part of the job. This was the beginning of a career that I had for 38 years, retiring as the Chief of Computing for the Corps when I was 56 years old. I met my husband-to-be, Cecil Lamar Parker, on that assignment. We have two sons, Cecil and Charles, and five grandchildren.

“My husband, who died in 1968, came to live in the Riverside home I had purchased with my mother in 1945. At the time of purchase, we had to put two thousand dollars down which was 1/3 of the total price. I have now lived there for 66 years.

“After retiring from the Corps, I went to UNF and earned a Masters in Allied Health with an emphasis on biofeedback, a mental health tool I was introduced to by a Colonel in the Corps. I feel like there is much more to know.”

And thus ends the conversation with an amazing Historic District dweller, a woman who has embraced cultural and generational change, a woman who exemplifies the model of the lifelong learner, a woman who was named Violet because of the color of her eyes.

By Victoria Register-Freeman
Resident Community News

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