Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences lost a loyal friend with the July 7 passing of Thomas L. Parker, retired chairman and former president of Big Drum Inc.
Parker, who was 92, will be remembered as an innovative businessman whose longtime, generous support of Ohio State is most visible in the Parker Food Science and Technology Building, named after his family. The facility’s completion -- along with the establishment of the Thomas L. Parker Excellence in Dairy Foods Program – was made possible by his $3 million donation in 2000.
"Tom Parker was an innovator, and he was dedicated to the success of the Department of Food Science and Technology and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences," said Bruce McPheron, vice president for agricultural administration and dean for the college. "His Buckeye spirit was focused on ensuring that we would achieve our potential."
“It was always a great department. Once they got the facility, they really took off,” Dean Emeritus Bobby Moser said. “Now it is one of the better food science departments in the country.”
An Upper Arlington, Ohio, resident, Parker frequently returned to the building over the years in order to keep in touch and see how he could help, Moser said.
In honor of his parents, Parker created the J.T. "Stubby" Parker Chair in Dairy Foods and the Gertrude Parker Heer Chair Fund in Cancer Research at the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. In addition, he supported the CAFFRE Annual Fund for the Center for the Advancement of Functional Foods Research and Entrepreneurship, the Parker Graduate Scholarship, the Longaberger Alumni House, and the Joseph M. Ryan, M.D., Chair Fund in Cardiovascular Medicine.
He had remained active on the Parker Chair board, alongside his daughter, Pamela Parker Gartin.
“He was a great, wonderful person. He loved Ohio State, and he loved the Department of Food Science and Technology,” Moser said. “He was always interested in what was going on with the department and with the college, and in making sure things would happen.”
Born in 1921 in Fort Worth, Texas, Parker graduated from Indiana’s Howe Military School and later from Ohio State, where he earned a business degree and had been active in the OSU Marketing Club and Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
For his service with the U.S. Army during World War II, Parker earned a Bronze Star.
He was president of Big Drum Inc. The packaging manufacturer, which was founded by his father, began as the Frozen Drumstick Company, originator of the novelty ice cream sundae cone. Food scientists from Ohio State helped “Stubby” and Tom’s uncle I.C. Parker perfect the Drumstick by recommending that a chocolate coating protect the cone from becoming soggy when frozen.
In addition to Big Drum, where Tom succeeded his father as president in 1968, he had been president of Krispy Kake Kone Company and had served on numerous corporate and organizational boards. In 1980, Big Drum was sold to Alco Standard Corporation.
"Those of us who knew Tom were blessed," McPheron said. "He was engaged and animated throughout his life. His generosity to Ohio State will impact generations of students and faculty still to come."
A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. July 30 at The First Community Church, 1320 Cambridge Blvd., in Columbus. A private burial was held July 11.
Preceded in death by his wife, Frances Parker, and son Richard T. Parker, he is survived by his daughter, his granddaughter, Sarah Parker Leventer, and extended family.
Memorial contributions may be made to Howe Military Academy, P.O. Box 240, Howe, IN 46746, or to the Boy Scouts of America Simon Kenton Council, 807 Kinnear Road, Columbus, OH 43212. An obituary can be found here.