Obituary: Joan Parent was an advocate for opportunity

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW and JOY POWELL , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: October 15, 2013 - 9:15 PM

 

The passage of Title IX in 1972 opened the door for girls to participate in school-sponsored athletics and activities. It took women like M. Joan Parent to make it happen.

A longtime champion of education and advocate for girls who wanted to play sports, Parent is believed to be the first woman in the nation to head a scholastic athletic association when she served a one-year term as president of the board of directors of the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) in the 1970s.

Parent died of heart disease Oct. 4 while at St. Cloud Hospital. She was 90.

Parent was a 30-year member of the Foley, Minn., school board and a member of Minnesota School Boards Association. In 1977, she took her leadership to the National School Boards Association and was its president in 1983, her final year with the organization.

She also was the first woman to be a licensed veterinarian in Minnesota and in 1986 was the running mate with gubernatorial candidate James Lindau, the one-time Bloomington mayor. They lost in the primary.

“She was an advocate for opportunity,” said her daughter, Joellen Johnson, of Shore­­view. “She was not afraid to stand up and say what she thought.”

Parent grew up in Ontario, where she participated in swimming, field hockey and ice hockey. She also was in the Girl Guides of Canada, counterpart of the U.S. Girl Scouts, her daughter said.

She graduated from Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph and married a classmate, Murray Parent. The couple moved to Foley in 1946 to work in his parents’ veterinary practice. She was stricken with polio in 1948 and spent the next several years recuperating and raising four children.

Dismayed by a lack of opportunities for girls in the United States and with her penchant for education, she ran for the Foley school board in 1957 and won. She was on the board until 1987.

Her service on the school board led to a position on the board of directors of the MSHSL. During her tenure, the league split large and small schools into separate classes. It also greatly expanded its program offerings and added eight state tournaments for girls.

“The government passed Title IX in 1972, but it did not have an interpretation of it until 1978,” said Dorothy McIntyre, retired associate director of the MSHSL. “It took leadership locally to positively move forward, and she was a vital part of that. For all of us who wanted equity in sports, you only hoped that somebody like Joan Parent was on your side opening those doors. [Today] any girl who stands on a field or is in a pool can see Joan smiling.”

One of Parent’s most difficult decisions came in 1976, when there was heated discussion on which season to hold the first girls’ state basketball tournament. Some felt it should be in the fall as to not compete with the boys’ season. In what McIntyre called one of the board’s “cornerstone” decisions, Parent cited equity and guided the board to offer girls’ basketball as a winter activity.

“I was privileged to have Joan Parent as a member of the MSHSL board of directors,” former MSHSL Executive Director Murrae Freng said. “There are just a few people in each generation that we refer to as ‘one of a kind.’ Joan was one of those.”

Joan Parent is preceded in death by parents Samuel and Winnifred Gurofsky and sister Dorothy Bennett, all of Toronto; husband Murray, and sons Sean and Seth. In addition to Johnson, Parent is survived by son Samuel of Winona, Minn., six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held. Parent also will be featured in a new historical exhibit opening later this year at the University of Minnesota Veterinary School.

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