Parks remembered by determined personality and compassion toward others

Clayton Parks, poses for the camera during his study abroad trip to Bucerias, Nayarit, Mexico in March 2014.

By Sophia Mullowney

DeKALB — In the wake of tragedy, the NIU community came together to reminisce about the life and impact of alumnus Clayton Parks.

Parks, 32, of South Elgin, was a victim in the Friday shooting at the Henry Pratt Company, 401 S. Highland Ave., Aurora. He was employed as the human resources manager.

Parks graduated from NIU’s College of Business in 2014 with a degree in management. He was married to Abby Bowen Parks and had one child, a son named Axel.

“I’m living my worst nightmare,” Parks’ wife said in a Facebook post. “Beneath all the fog and the shock and the crushing pain, I believe the same God that brought us together and gave us our precious son will somehow carry us through. I’ll love you always and miss you forever, Clay.”

Students, faculty and administration were touched by Parks dedication and leadership during his time at NIU and beyond.

Senior management major Abby Roemer said Parks served as a mentor to her when she was first exploring a career in human resources. The two sat down for lunch to discuss Roemer’s career plans, and Parks offered words of encouragement.

“We had lunch together, and he told me to keep it up and keep working at what [I] was doing,” Roemer said. “He was so transparent about his career and was able to share that it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows in HR. After that lunch with him, I knew I could do [it], and he really helped me figure out that was the career I wanted to pursue.”

Dennis Barsema, board of trustees chairperson, said he met Parks when he transferred, taking several of Barsema’s social entrepreneurship courses. Barsema said Parks was an active participant in class, and the two got coffee to talk about Parks’ life and hopes for his career.

Barsema was touched by Parks’ commitment to providing services to others and advancing his own career.

“[Parks] was a very unique person,” Barsema said. “To find his purpose in life, he had a role in making the world better.”

Barsema recalled a project Parks worked on as a student: a business model that proposed installing water hydraulics in homes to produce sustainable energy through plumbing systems. He said this project demonstrated a spirit oriented in service to others.

“He always looked for opportunities to take leadership roles,” Barsema said. “[Parks] did everything right. He didn’t take shortcuts; he put in the work in order to be successful, which he clearly was.”

Christine Mooney, the Barsema professor of social entrepreneurship, said Parks was one of the first students to gain a social entrepreneurship minor once the program was initiated. She said Parks was a great addition to her class and always had energy.

“He was an outstanding student,” Mooney said. “He had a maturity beyond his years and was kind, caring and considerate.”

Mooney said she is sad for anyone who didn’t get the chance to know Parks personally because he was a friend to everyone he came into contact with.

Parks also participated in a study abroad program in Mexico led by Mooney.

“[Parks] was a natural leader and brought a thoughtfulness and diligence to the project,” Mooney said. “He helped make the trip wonderful, always with a smile and positive words for his peers and for the many artisans and locals we worked with. He just had a beautiful spirit about him and a wonderful energy and love of life.”

Terrence Bishop, associate professor of management, said Parks was a naturally gifted leader both inside and out of the classroom. He said he was a member of the Management Student Advisory Board, which provides the department with student input to its operations.

“His ability to lead was based on the quality of the relationships he built with everyone he came into contact with,” Bishop said. “As an alumnus, he frequently looked for ways to help out NIU and our students. He touched so many lives, even as a young man, and to say that he will be missed is an incredible understatement.”