Park Seed Farms once thrived in Champaign County


As a continuation of the stories of the Lippincott Station area, here is the story of the old Park Seed Farms as related by Christy Parks, daughter of one of its founders. It is an example of one family’s determination to be successful in their home-grown business enterprise despite many adversities. This recording of a piece of Champaign County history is also a tribute to the many years of service of Robert Park to the development of our Champaign County Historical Society Museum, since he forgot to record his own story.

According to Christy Park, in the 1930s, her grandfather, Jay Park, bought two farms north of Urbana, Ohio, on the Upper Valley Pike. Great Grandparents, Robert C. Park and his wife Hattie lived in Urbana, although her grandfather lived in Columbus. When his grandfather died in 1937, her father Robert N. Park (named after his grandfather) and her mother Lorraine moved to Urbana. Her father, also known as Bob, and his father Jay, started Park Seed Farms when Christy was about a year old.

Grandfather Jay had a Ph.D. from Harvard in Genetics and was a professor of agronomy at Ohio State University. Using his expertise, he and his son Bob developed the hybrid corn that their company sold. Park Seed Farms had dealers throughout the Midwest and parts of the south (Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.) Jay developed the white/gold sweet corn hybrid, although sweet corn was more or less a sideline. The business was located on the North farm (on Valley Pike) which is located south of Lippincott (and Lippincott Road), where Ernie and Mary King’s Store was the nearest place to buy anything. (Remember the McGuires detailed description of that store in a previous article.)

Three families were long-time employees of Park Seed Farms: Hilbert Meyers and Essie Bryant, who with their families lived on the South farm, and Raymond Knotts, who lived with his family on the North farm. Her dad was an early subscriber to health insurance for his employees.

The business hired seasonal workers for de-tasseling – removing tassels from some of the corn in order to create hybrids. Many local high school boys pulled tassels in the summers (Mr. McGuire started out as one of those boys.) In addition to migrant workers from Appalachia and Texas, one summer workers were imported from Jamaica to do the job.

Fire devastates farm

In 1945 the farm suffered a devastating fire, with the result that her dad considered giving up the business. But by the next year, he and her grandparents formed a new partnership, and Park Seed Farms was housed in new buildings. Although Christy’s family lived in Urbana most of the time, they did move to the North farm for two years after the fire, and she went to Salem school. A few years later, the farm was hit by tornadoes, one of which demolished the barn and an old farmhouse. Once again, the business survived and rebuilt.

Christy worked in the office all through high school, and later summers, and holidays, during college. Her mother worked in the office after Christy left. Her brother, Steve, (who still lives in Urbana) also worked for their Dad. Sister Rosella, during her childhood, spent most Saturdays and summer days on the farm. The whole family’s lives were centered around the farm itself as well as the business. Their grandparents even came from Columbus to spend summers in a cottage on the North farm.

Their father, Bob Parks, maintained the integrity of the hybrids, which is why the seed was respected. His focus was on the hybrid corn business. He did not have much interest in livestock, but, since the North farm had substantial pastures, he did raise Hereford cattle and then sheep. They also had two horses.

When their dad retired in the early 70’s he did not sell the business itself, but did sell the North farm. After over 30 successful years, he decided to retire both himself and the Park Seed Farms business.

From prohibition officer to liquor control officer

As an additional tribute to this past Historical Society member, included is the interesting obituary of Robert Nation Park (1911-2003), age 91, of Urbana. It reads, “he died Monday, March 10, 2003 in his residence. He was born September 14, 1911, in Urbana, Illinois, son of Jay Boardman Park and Ethel (Nation) Park. Bob attended DePauw University and graduated from The Ohio State University where his father was on the faculty. He was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. After college he was a prohibition officer, and after the Prohibition Repeal, a state liquor control officer. Bob came to Urbana in 1937 establishing (with his father) Park Seed Farms, then retired in 1972.

During his career he was a member of the Ohio State Seed Improvement Association, and the American Seed Trade Association. He was dedicated to establishing quality standards for hybrid seed corn. Many people in the community will remember working for Bob on the farm as de-tasselers in the summer. Bob and Lorraine joined the Presbyterian Church of Urbana in 1937. Bob was a member until his death, serving as an elder, a trustee, and as an active participant in the mens breakfast club.

He was a member of the Harmony Lodge # 8 F.& A. M., the Urbana Rotary Club and was involved in many aspects of the Champaign County Historical Society in his retirement years, including key offices and finally the curators position. He had an active role in the society’s annual Oktoberfest. Bob also delivered meals on wheels and served as treasurer of the memorial fund of the Champaign Memorial Committee.

He is survived by a son, Robert Stevens Park of Urbana; two daughters, Christy Sophia Park of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Rosella Park Sagall of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; seven grandchildren; one great grandchild. He was preceded in death by his wife Lorraine Park in July 6, 1997, and a sister Jean Park Taylor.” He himself had suffered a stroke while serving as Champaign County Historical Society curator, from which he was never able to fully recover. But his story has now been recorded for others to know. Don’t forget to record your own story for those looking back to piece together the parts ordinary people played in making our community what it is today, especially our exceptional Champaign County Historical Society and Museum.

The chimney behind the house was all that remained of the Park Seed Farms after a 1945 fire. chimney behind the house was all that remained of the Park Seed Farms after a 1945 fire. Submitted photo

By Sheryl Virts

Champaign County Historical Society

Submitted by the Champaign County Historical Society.

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