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Mark David Parsons: Dedicated professor, gifted musician

Dedicated professor, gifted musician

Mark David Parsons died peacefully, surrounded by his family, on June 3, 2015 at his parents’ home in Bend, Oregon following an extended battle with cancer. He was 55.

Mr. Parsons was born on December 29, 1959 in Enid, Oklahoma to David and Avalon Parsons, and spent his junior high, high school and early college years in Bend. He developed an interest in music early on, taking piano lessons and then moving onto the trumpet, followed by the French horn.

He took singing lessons, honing his rich baritone, and played several instruments in his high school jazz band. He also began tinkering with cars as a teen, taking them apart and refurbishing them. His dad recalls the time when young Mark’s room was graced by a torn-out radiator and transmission for an entire winter.

After graduating from Bend High School in 1978, Mr. Parsons studied at Central Oregon Community College. He was a graduate of Northwest Christian University in Eugene, Oregon and of the American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley, California and received his PhD from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

Mr. Parsons served for 16 years on the faculty and staff of Disciples Seminary Foundation and the Claremont School of Theology, where he was assistant professor of religion and music and later dean of Disciples Seminary Foundation. DSF named him Dean Emeritus in 2014 in recognition of his outstanding service and enduring legacy. Mark’s spirit in teaching and guidance, counsel and mentoring as dean encouraged and supported many in finding their pathway for life.

John Berquist first met Mr. Parsons many years ago when they were both attending Northwest Christian University. They were reunited four and a half years ago when Mr. Berquist became president of Disciples Seminary Foundation.

“He was wonderful with our students—he was such a kind and gracious mentor,” Mr. Berquist said. “He had a great sense of humor, kind of a sharp wit about him. He helped the rest of us not take things too seriously.” 

Mr. Parsons remained enthusiastic about music, especially liturgical music, classical music and big band. He published a number of articles about liturgical music, the most recent being a piece called “God is in the Radio: Music Theology in a Secular Age” for Theological Education in a Secular Age.

Another favorite pursuit was the refurbishment of classic “muscle” cars. In recent years, Mr. Parsons’ pet project was a 1965 Plymouth Belvedere, which he lovingly restored and embellished with a shimmering copper paint-job. His younger brother Paul occasionally flew in from Oregon, staying for several days to visit and help work on the car. Before his death, Mark gave the Belvedere to Paul.

In January 2010, he married his wife Jeanne’marie. His life was greatly enriched by the union, and by the time he spent with her sons Ian, Aidan and Collin, according to Mark’s dad.  

“He developed a very close relationship with her three boys. He didn’t try to be father—he just wanted to be a good step-father,” the elder Mr. Parsons said. “He had a lot of respect for them and they had a lot of respect for him. It was just a really strong, caring relationship.”

After he fell ill, the Disciples Seminary Foundation set up a scholarship fund in Mr. Parsons’ name with the goal of raising $10,000. The foundation has already exceeded that amount, having raising almost $20,000, and was able to start awarding the scholarship a couple of years ago. Mark was able to pick the first group of scholarship winners. 

Family and colleagues say Mr. Parsons is already deeply missed. “He was wonderful. The boys loved him dearly,” Jeanne’marie said.

Mark is survived by his wife, Jeanne’marie, and three stepsons, Ian, Aidan and Collin Fitzpatrick. He is also survived by a brother and sister-in-law, Paul and Eri Parsons of of Bend, and his parents, David and Avalon Parsons of Bend.

A memorial service will be held this fall in the chapel of the Claremont School of Theology, with the date to be determined.

Donations in Mark’s memory may be made to the Mark David Parsons Scholarship Fund at the Disciples Seminary Foundation, 300 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont CA 91711.

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