May 25, 2022 at 8:03 p.m.
Memorial Day always meaningful for the Parks’ baby sister
Springtime is filled with dreams for high school graduates. Their lives lie before them in an array of hope and expectation, as well as the unknown.
For Sauk Centre graduates Donnie Parks (Class of ‘48) and Laurel “Larry” Parks (Class of ‘49), those hopes and dreams were not to be. Instead, their lives were taken early, one year apart, in service to their country. Memorial Day each year is a time when their baby sister, Judy Zenzen, spends even more time than ever reminiscing about the big brothers who spoiled her so much as a mere preschooler.
“It’s a very emotional day; it’s a very proud day because I have so many military [members] in my life that have defended our country, and it’s just an awesome feeling to know that our family – generations have been in the military for the United States,” Judy said May 24 at her home in Sauk Centre.
No matter how often the stories of her big brothers are told, she considers it an opportunity to acknowledge and honor them.
The family of Everett and Esther Parks included their five children: Donald, Larry, Richard, Marilyn and Judy. Donnie and Larry were many years older than Judy, and both entered the military shortly after graduating from high school.
Tragedy struck swiftly.
Donnie was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, and was killed in a car accident in 1949, less than a year after he began serving his country in the military.
One year later in 1950, Larry was captured as a prisoner of war in Korea. He was a member of the Med. Co. 25th Infantry Division, a medic. He was reported missing in action by a telegram that came through the Great Northern Railroad station in Sauk Centre, where Everett worked. Everett’s boss, Rudy August, was the stenographer who took the message; August was at a loss for words to tell Everett his son was missing.
“I don’t know where my mom and dad got their strength from; it must of have been from God, because they were so strong,” Judy said. “I can remember my mom when Larry was a prisoner of war. She would lay [there] at night and envision him and hear his footsteps coming up the driveway; and, I can remember her looking at pictures of prisoners of war in newspapers with a magnifying glass.”
She was looking for her son.
Eventually, another telegram came through. Larry’s body had been identified and would be flown back to the United States before its last journey by train to the depot in Sauk Centre. The National Guard stood in attention at the depot until the train came into town during the early hours of the morning. They escorted his body to the Parks’ home on Railroad Avenue, where they continued to stand guard throughout the wake.
“Having the wake at home was more traumatic,” Judy said. “It’s all very impressive when you’re 5 years old.”
The death of the two brothers changed the Parks family. Details of Donnie’s tragic death and Larry’s horror in Korea are known and bring tears to Judy’s eyes when she shares them. But, she would rather share stories about the big brothers who adored their baby sister.
“I always feel like they’re part of my life, even if they aren’t here physically,” she said. “I have always gotten a lot of comfort going out to their graves.”
She talked about how her brothers spoiled her. Back in high school, Donnie drove a truck delivering mail around town while their parents were both working. Judy always rode along.
“If I was really good, we got to go to John’s Place for a treat, and then he would take me over to the Corner Drug Store where Larry worked as a ‘soda jerk,’ and Larry would buy me a malt,” Judy said. “So, I got spoiled by my two older brothers.”
Another favorite story was about the time Judy got in trouble.
“I broke one of those expandable rulers and I got a licking for it,” she said. “At that time, the Ding Dong was owned by Walt Gritzmacher and they had a great big candy counter. I got to pick out what I wanted; by the time I was done, I had a crisper full of candy. It’s the only licking I got in my life.”
She still chuckles today, remembering how much they spoiled her, saying her other brother, Dick, and sister, Marilyn, were very good to her as well.
Now, with all her siblings and parents gone, Judy continues a tradition of attending Memorial Day services that began when she was just 5 years old, when Everett and Esther Parks’ status changed to Gold Star Parents.
“I usually try to go every year,” she said. “Taps are hard.”
Judy considers it an honor to talk about her brothers and, having come from a generational military family and spending her married life with her military husband, Gerald Zenzen, and their four military sons, Tom, Tony, Todd and Troy, she takes any chance she can get to honor those who have served their country in the military.
“I don’t think our military of today get the respect that they should, and that saddens me,” she said. “[People] don’t put the significance of what that uniform means to a true military person; it’s an honor to wear that uniform.”
On May 24, Judy Zenzen visited St. Paul’s Cemetery, where she cleaned the headstones of her beloved brothers leading up to yet another Memorial Day. Her memories of them are crystal clear, because they spent so much time together.
She hangs on to that.
“They were so much a part of my life,” she said. “I can just remember how good they were to me. If I could see them, I would just give them a hug.”