I almost passed up the side trip to the Winnebago Area Museum on my way from Albert Lea. Seven hours from home with rain and falling temperatures, I was ready to error on the side of safety, staying on Interstate 90. Fortunately, I didn’t. The museum had more material on Parker College than I will ever use and a very helpful staff. I’ve never before been invited to take materials from display cases to copy or even to use my own camera. I am grateful for the museum’s help in this Parker College layout.
Parker College was founded by the Western Association of Free Baptists. The school took the name Parker College in 1891, in honor of L. D. Parker, who provided the land for the college. An 1890 article in New York Times says that the church had raised $1,528 for the school, which was in its third year. At that time it had 100 students, fifteen of whom were ministerial students. In Congregation and Campus, William H. Brackney notes that the “hundred or so students” were largely local, drawn by affordable tuition.
Material in the Winnebago Area Museum shows that the highest enrollment in the history of the school was 239. A Parker College brochure shows six courses of study. A four-year collegiate course led to a Bachelor of Arts degree. The preparatory course of study prepared students for college entrance. The normal course provided practice work in teaching and prepared students for the teacher’s examination. The music course offered five-year programs in voice, piano and violin. The two-year oratory course of study developed skills in reading and public speaking. Finally the department of commerce offered a nine-month’s course in both shorthand and bookkeeping.
Parker College advertised that its “moral tone” was “most wholesome and uplifting.” To that end the school had chapters of both the YMCA and YWCA. Culturally, Parker College had two literary societies that provided bi-weekly programs of debate and oration. Brackney also notes that the school was denominational but not sectarian, with students, faculty and trustees from various denominations. A church merger of the Free Baptists and the Northern Baptists in 1911 led to the passing of the school to the Methodist Episcopal Church. Parker College closed in 1924. Records went to Sioux Falls College.
Bricks and Mortar
Located on a hilltop amid the oaks, the Administration Building was erected for $20,000. The three-story brick building contained classrooms, offices, and a library. Its basement provided a home for a manual training department.
The men’s dormitory was built in 1913. After Parker College closed, the campus sat empty until 1931, when the property was passed to Winnebago Baptist Homes as a residence for aging Baptists. The Administration Building was razed in 1931 to make way for a new structure. Today the site is occupied by the Parker Oaks Communities, a nursing facility.
Postcard view of Parker College Administration Building (Courtesy of Winnebago Area Museum)
The brochure notes that the school played “Baseball, Football, Basketball and Tennis in the proper seasons.” It further noted that Parker had the “Finest Gridiron, Diamond and Tennis Courts that can be had.”
Parker’s football games and results are difficult to locate. The team played several games against Mankato Normal College and Gustavus Adolphus College at St. Peters—just down the road. But because of its size, Parker likely played high school teams such as Shattuck School as often as college sides.
In 1909 Bobby Marshall, one of the greatest athletes in Minnesota history, took the head coaching at Parker College, making him the first African-American head coach in history.
The museum contains photos of a women's basketball team.
The 1908 Parker College football team. Some players appear to be prep students. (Image courtesy of Winnebago Area Museum)