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July 25, 2003

Former ISU President W. Robert Parks dies

Clockwise from top: W. Robert and Ellen Parks in front of the library (1984); ground breaking ceremony for the Iowa State Center (1965); a pensive moment in the President's Office (1966); presidential portrait that hangs in the library (1984); Former president James Hilton hands the keys to the president's office to Parks on his first day as university president (1966); Park's inaugural address (1966). Photos courtesy of the Special Collections Department, ISU Library.
The campus and Ames community turned out to remember W. Robert Parks, Iowa State's longest serving president, during a service July 20 on campus. Parks, 87, died July 13.

Parks was the university's 11th president, serving from 1965 to 1986. During his 21 years of leadership, Iowa State experienced the most dramatic growth in its history, adding three new colleges (Education, Design and Business), approximately 40 undergraduate and 30 graduate majors to the curriculum, and 37 new buildings. Enrollment increased by almost 90 percent and approximately 88,000 degrees were awarded during his presidency. Under his leadership, Iowa State's research budget increased by 300 percent and several new research and technology transfer programs were started.

In 1984, the library was renamed the William Robert Parks and Ellen Sorge Parks Library, in honor of Parks and his wife. Ellen Parks died in 1999.

During his presidency, Parks served as head of several national organizations, including the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, the Association of American Universities, Council of Presidents, Mid-America State Universities Association and the Association of Iowa College Presidents.

Parks was born Oct. 13, 1915, in Mulberry, Tenn. He received a B.A. from Berea College, Kentucky, in 1937, an M.A. from the University of Kentucky, Lexington, in 1938 and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1948.

"President Parks was one of the truly great presidents of Iowa State University, and he directed in so many ways its development from a college into a broad-based, international university," President Gregory Geoffroy said. "Iowa State is an outstanding university today, thanks in large part to the leadership of Dr. Parks, and he will be missed."

A mural of the Iowa landscape has been commissioned for permanent display in the Parks Library. Memorial contributions for the mural should be designated for the W. Robert Parks Memorial in care of the Iowa State University Foundation, 2505 Elwood Drive.

Parks at work
  • 1940-1948 Research and administrative position, Bureau of Agricultural Economics, Washington, D.C. (interrupted by 30 months in the U.S. Navy during World War II)
  • 1948-1956 Government professor, Iowa State
  • 1956-1958 Agricultural economist, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • 1958-1961 Dean of instruction, Iowa State
  • 1961-1965 Vice president in charge of academic affairs, Iowa State
  • 1965-1986 President, Iowa State

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