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Longtime student advisor cherishes the gift of a home

From left: Mo Young, Lyllye Reynolds-Parker (seated), Emily Yates, and Bess Blacquiere in Parker's new home. Young and Wade lead the fundraiser for the down payment for Parker's house. Blacquire is Parker's realtor.
Rachael McDonald
From left: Mo Young, Lyllye Reynolds-Parker (seated), Emily Yates, and Bess Blacquiere in Parker's new home. Young and Wade helped lead the fundraiser to help with the down payment for Parker's house. Blacquiere is Parker's realtor.

Now the story of a new home for a new year. A community in Eugene came together to help a 75-year old woman buy her first house. The students she mentored wanted her to know how much she helped them in their lives.

In 1946, Lyllye Reynolds-Parker was born to one of the few Black families in Eugene. They were living on the north side of the river in a Black community that was displaced when the county told them to move so the Ferry Street Bridge could be built. They moved to West 11th Street, outside of town.

“We had no running water. No inside facilities,” said Parker. “We went out the back door.”

Parker tells a story of not being properly encouraged in her own childhood. During middle school, she wrote an essay about her hero, Thurgood Marshall.

“And I had a counselor in the 8th grade who said, 'Oh no, Lyllye, you will never be an attorney,'” Parker remembered. “'You’re not only negro, but you’re a girl. So you need to go back and find another career path. Nursing, cosmetology, home economics.'”

So, she became a hairdresser for several years. But at the age of 40, a single mother, Parker decided to go back to school and get her degree at the University of Oregon. Then, she went on to work there as an advisor to students of color.

University of Oregon
Lyllye Reynolds-Parker in front of the Black Cultural Center named in her honor at the UO.

“And I said to me, 'Lyllye, if you’re ever in the position to lift somebody up and tell them they can be anybody they want to be, run for it,'” Parker said.

“She didn’t tell me what to do,” David Young said. “She just believed in me.”

Young was one of her mentees. Diagnosed with a mental illness at 17, he had a breakdown while attending the university. When he went back after being hospitalized, Parker was there for him.

“I learned to confide in her and build trust and consider her more like family than an academic advisor,” he said.

Now Young has a masters degree and is working toward a license in social work. His sister, Mo Young, is the one who started the fundraiser for Parker, with an ambitious goal.

“So, we hit the $25,000 pretty quickly and people still wanted to help. And I was like, 'If people still want to help, then let’s let them help,'” she said.

Even though it was clear Parker didn’t have enough money for a down payment in a tight housing market, she didn’t want to feel like Young was asking the community to give her a handout.

“I said honestly, 'I don’t want anybody to ever think Lyllye Parker is out there begging for money to buy a house' and she said 'No, Miss Lyllye, it’s not like that. Let me honor you for all you’ve done for students at the University and people in this community and people across the state of Oregon,'” said Parker.

They raised more than $76,000 from hundreds of donors. And on Wednesday of last week, Parker’s realtor, Bess Blacquiere, handed her the keys to her new house.

“Okay Lyllye, these are the keys to your new home. And you are going to step inside,” said Blacquiere as they opened the door.

“Welcome to my house,” Parker said. “This is so wonderful.”

The home is actually built with accessibility in mind for aging people.

“This is my living room,” she said. “When I first walked into this house, it said, 'Okay you’re home.' And I knew I was home.”

Parker shared she was so grateful for the community, including people she doesn’t even know, who helped her buy her home.

She plans to share this house with her sister and then pass it on to the next generation.

“I want to leave a legacy for my son and granddaughter,” she said. I want them to know I was here and productive and wanted to add some semblance of moving up in their lives.”

In the same way Lyllye Reynolds-Parker helped so many students move up in their lives.

Parker has been honored in another way by the University of Oregon community. Her name is on the UO’s new Black Cultural Center.

You can find details on the fundraiser at “Thank you, Miss Lyllye”, on Facebook. There’s also a gofundme page.

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.
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