After I received an email from Shelly Gardner telling about her grandfather’s fulfilling life, I took the opportunity to visit Bernard Parsley and his wife, Elizabeth, in their Malta home.
At 95, Parsley could be the oldest man in town, but one would never believe his age when talking with him. We covered a lot of history, from his World War II service, marriage, building his own motor home, designing and building sleds for tractor pulls, piloting his own plane, farming for 20 years, then becoming a skilled dynamiter, among his other endeavors.
He joined the Army Air Corps as part of the 309th Fighter Squadron, 31st Fighter Group during the World War II as an aircraft radio mechanic for the planes that were part of the North African campaign and then the invasion of Italy. He was quick to point out that “people should never forget the foot soldier, who fought and died to secure this real estate, as well as the bomber pilots and flight crews who flew hundreds of missions.”
As the war was ending in 1945, he got to leave to come home and marry his sweetheart, Elizabeth, and they have now been together for 67 years. She has a story of her own to tell, serving as postmaster for Malta for about 24 years. But that will have to wait for another time.
They took up farming in the Rochelle and then Malta areas, and Parsley’s mechanical aptitude gave him the incentive to build some of his own farming equipment, converting two tractors to diesel power, as well as building a one-of-a-kind motor home.
For that he bought an Oldsmobile Toronado coupe, cut out the back end to attach a 12-foot travel trailer, and they drove about 68,000 miles around the country in the years after retirement.
He then bought a GMC motor home, using it for another 12 years. He decided to give up farming when he got an offer from Larson’s Quarry on Airport Road to come work there. He spent 10 years as their dynamiter, setting charges and blasting loose tons of limestone.
Although he didn’t get to fly during the war, his love of planes caused him to partner with another farmer and buy a Piper Cub Vagabond, getting his pilot’s license and building an airstrip on the farm. He even went to the Rochelle Airport and flew their planes for two seasons part time as a crop duster, “back when they flew so low they sometimes had corn leaves on their landing gear.”
He loved to build things, and designed a sled for tractor pulls, the size they used for garden tractors and minirods. Over the years he hauled his sleds to competitions around the Midwest. He also drew up the plans for the house they built in Malta, their home since 1968.
My last question: What’s your formula for a successful marriage? Bernard quipped, “I say I’m the boss. I make darn sure I do everything she tells me to.”
Elizabeth’s response: “Always talk things over.”
Spending a Sunday afternoon with the Parselys just reminded me once again why Tom Brokaw titled his book “The Greatest Generation.”
• Barry Schrader was editor of the Daily Chronicle from 1969-72. He and his wife, Kay, are retired and live in DeKalb. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115.