Tom "Dooder" Parker Park at Forest Park South

To the north of the Par Three Gold Course, the Port City Trail winds through Tom "Dooder" Parker Park at Forest Park South on its way to Buck Griffin Lake.

The park, established in 2001, offers a children's playground with a nice slide and swings, a covered picnic pavilion and public restrooms, all under the shade of stately bay, oak and pine trees.

A spacious fishing pier extends out over a small pond on the southern end of the park, and a wooden pedestrian bridge connects the park to the park at Buck Griffin Lake.

Clearly there were already sufficient reasons to name Forest Park South in Port St. Joe in honor of Tom Parker, Jr.

By TIM CROFT / The Port St. Joe Star | 850-227-7827 / @PSJ_Star |

Clearly there were already sufficient reasons to name Forest Park South in Port St. Joe in honor of Tom Parker, Jr.

But, just to seal the deal, in a way, Parker supplied one more during a ceremony last week before a large gathering under the shade of the park's trees.

The park area, it turned out, was not only close to the Parker long-time homestead, it was also the place Tom Parker and the woman who would become his bride used to "go to smooch."

Parker delivered that nugget of personal history in the same quiet and direct way this man, called several times a "gentle spirit," has ambled through life.

"This is a blessing," Parker said at the conclusion of the ceremony to re-dedicate the park as "Tom 'Dooder' Parker Park at Forest Park South."

"I don't deserve it ... but I'll take it."

Dedicating the park to Parker was brought to the Port St. Joe City Commission earlier this year by former board member Phil McCroan.

"If you were born or grew up in Port St. Joe you knew Mr. Tom Parker," McCroan said. "When I (look at him) I see a gentle spirit and a life well-lived."

The dedication was pushed back from June due to health reasons; last Friday, Parker, 89, moved with an athletic ease that belied his years.

In part, the dedication is to a man who has lived so much life on Woodward Avenue, which at 16th Street flows into the park.

Parker was born on the opposite end of Woodward and has lived nearly his entire adult life in the 1300 block, settling with his wife, Erma Louise, and raising four children.

"This park has some meaning (for the family) and it was a big part of their life," said son-in-law Steve Lawrence. "It was a place of recreation, it was a place of solitude."

Those four children shared, through Parker's son-in-law John Underwood, "vignettes," moments, from flounder fishing to pondering pilfered pomegranites, that provided the spectrum through which they saw their father.

"These provide a tapestry of love, protection, forgiveness, of life lessons tempered by love," Underwood said. "That's what Dooder did for his children."

In a broader sense, the dedication was to a favored son of Port St. Joe, a man with the unique moniker, eyes alight and easy manner who has become a historian, one of the few gatekeepers remaining for the memories of another time and place.

He operated the projector at the old Port Theatre as a teenager, worked four decades at the St. Joe Paper Mill, while involved in the lives of his children and, in a sense, a community's children.

For, after all, activities at the Student Teen Activity Center (STAC House) were for years led by Parker's late wife, Erma, for whom the STAC House is now named.

The man was also, by all reports, a Mr. Fix-it of some renown.

"He never met a broken TV he didn't like," Underwood said.

But, in addition, his life, down to the smooching with the future Mrs. Parker, seemed so intertwined with community that the filmmakers documenting the history and saving of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse threaded the film with Parker's life.

"He loves Port St. Joe," Lawrence said. "He has a deep abiding love for this community."

And, of course, there is that nickname, derived because a younger sister could not pronounce "junior" in referring to her oldest brother, the first of eight siblings.

So, "Dooder" simply stuck, or if it ever bothered him, Parker never let on, not that he would.

"He is so unassuming, so humble," McCroan said.