Senior Page: Brewster’s Loraine Parker Honored By Wheaton College At 80th Reunion

by Elizabeth Van Wye

BREWSTER – When Brewster resident Loraine Whiteford Parker graduated from Wheaton College, World War II was years from being over. Attending the Norton-based college during the war meant Parker, a member of the class of 1944, had to bring her food ration card with her in order to eat.

Now 101 and blessed with a family of four children, seven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren, Parker was recently honored by her alma mater at her 80th college reunion.

Wheaton College recognized her with a white rose and a certificate titled "Summa Cum Amore" or "With total love." Signed by college President Dr. Michaele Whelan, it recognized her as someone "whose accomplishments have helped make Wheaton an outstanding institution of higher education in America."

The day of the reunion was rainy, but Parker was delighted to be at Wheaton again.

"I only wanted to go to the parade," she said, and Wheaton obliged, fixing her up with her own golf cart labeled "Class of 1944" to navigate the parade route. She found herself the object of much attention and had a chance to talk to many of the graduates. "They all wanted to talk to me!" she marveled.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1923, Loraine Whiteford was one of four children. She attended and graduated from Brooklyn's Packer Collegiate Institute, which included the first two years of college, in 1942. She went on to complete her bachelor's degree at Wheaton, majoring in chemistry. "I fell in love with chemistry in high school," she recalled. An older brother who had become an inventor, including starting four different companies in the field of plastics, had served as an inspiration.

In 1945, shortly after graduation, she married the love of her life and fellow Brooklyn native, also a chemist, Charles Parker who was three and a half years older than she.

While her husband completed his doctorate degree, she found work as a chemist. She started out at ER Squibb, an early pharmaceutical company which would eventually become part of Bristol Meyers Squibb. She recalled working on a number of projects there, including inventing a combination sunblock/insect repellent, which she called QuitSun, for which she had high hopes.

Her boss suggested she take her invention on an upcoming vacation which included canoeing in Maine. "We were never bitten and the mosquitoes are pretty bad there!" she recalled. It would seem that her new product worked, at least repelling mosquitoes. Unfortunately, when her husband washed his face later that day, his skin turned bright red. When she reported the results back at work, she recalled that her boss "made everyone try it on." They found out that brunettes could handle QuitSun well, but blondes and redheads "couldn't handle it!" So much for QuitSun!

She recalled being involved in another chemical experiment, this time involving a solution of protein hydrolysates that was being looked at for treatment of ulcers. Unfortunately, she recalled, it "tasted horrible!" so her boss sent her out to buy a milkshake to hide the flavor. "I drank a lot of milkshakes!"

When she later worked as the only woman chemist for the EF Drew Chemical Company, her project involved trying to determine what was causing boilers to break on some of the big ships of that time.

"The chemists were looking at what was wrong with the metal," she said, and she recalled examining cartons of burst pipes to try to find the answers.

In 1950, with her husband's doctorate complete and his job as an engineer with Rohm and Haas in hand, the Parkers moved to Redstone Arsenal in Alabama where she became a homemaker and where their four children were born.

"We loved it," Parker recalled. It was a hotbed of scientific research, she recalled. "All the German scientists were there," having fled the Nazi government. Her neighbors were Wernher von Braun and his family.

Each summer the family chose a different part of the country to visit, ultimately road tripping to 49 of the 50 states, often "in a Dodge Lancer station wagon and then an Oldsmobile with a roof window!" she said. Only Hawaii was missed.

Transferred to the Philadelphia office in 1970, her husband continued to work as an engineer for another decade. Originally drawn to the Cape because her sister-in-law lived in Dennis, in 1978 the Parkers decided they wanted to retire on Cape Cod. They had purchased a waterfront lot on Long Pond in Harwich and had a very specific kind of house in mind. They hired an experienced architect to design a passive solar house which would collect heat from the sun through south facing windows and store it in materials like concrete, bricks and tile.

While the house was under construction the Parkers rented an unheated cottage on Nantucket Sound. She recalled her husband biking over to Long Pond every day to oversee construction. In 1980, they moved into the house.

While living on Long Pond they traveled all over the world, entertained and enjoyed all sorts of outdoor activities including biking, boating, swimming and tennis. They played bridge and loved square dancing and she and her husband owned more than 20 matching square dancing outfits. Married for more than 75 years, they lived in that house until 2021 when her husband died at the age of 101.

For the past five years she has been a member of Nauset Neighbors, a local organization helping to keep people in their homes as long as possible. Nauset Neighbors volunteer Lisa Allen has been taking Parker out for errands every Wednesday since 2019. Along with her husband Mike Betlinski, Lisa has continued to provide friendship and support every week, helping to maintain contact with the family, who all live off Cape. Allen calls these visits her “Wednesdays with Loraine.”

Parker is an avid reader, especially of mysteries, and regularly visits the library to take out four books at a time. While she no longer bikes outdoors, she has a stationary bike in her apartment. She loves visiting with friends and family and has a sharp memory and quick recall. She has a collection of albums from their many trips and she enjoys rereading her husband's many journals.

"We had a big life!" she says with a smile.