Celebrating Jane Kirwan Parks on her 90th


Dorchester Banner/Gloria Rojas Jane Kirwan Parks (left) with Judy Slaughter and Donna Robinson at the A. May Thompson shop at the Eastern Shore Hospital Center.

Dorchester Banner/Gloria Rojas
Jane Kirwan Parks (left) with Judy Slaughter and Donna Robinson at the A. May Thompson shop at the Eastern Shore Hospital Center.

Jane Kirwan Parks celebrated her 90th birthday last week and her friends threw a birthday party for her at the Eastern Shore Hospital Center where she volunteers. That’s right, at age 90, Jane continues to volunteer weekly at the hospital where she has some indirect history. It was her family who owned and farmed 250 acres on the Choptank River until the early 20th century when the family sold the property to the state to build the first hospital on the Eastern Shore providing care for the mentally ill. In the 80s, the hospital moved to its new site on Woods Road.

That’s where Jane and 27 other active volunteers help out in the patients’ shop, pricing intake donations, jewelry and giftware. Donna Robinson, director of Volunteer Services, says volunteers also raise money through events like a fashion show, and use the funds to provide socializing experiences and skills patients need to be able to return to normal life. Tax dollars simply aren’t there.

Sixty-one percent of the patients have no income, so volunteers like Jane make an enormous difference. They average close to 500 volunteer-hours a year, EACH! Keep in mind, Jane is celebrating her 90th birthday. How does she do it? I asked if she had a nutritional program, an exercise program, what is the secret that keeps her so active? “Attitude,” is Jane’s answer. “I love it. I love what I’m doing and I know it helps others. I love the camaraderie with the other volunteers and lunches where there’s never a cross word.”

Jane grew up with a talent for science, and after college she was offered a fellowship at Duke University that would enable her to become a doctor. Being a woman and a doctor was a challenge in that era, so Jane decided to become a teacher. You can find many former students who were in her class or in the Girl Scout troop she led for many years.

Cathy Mooney of Linkwood says, “I was the student who supplied the class with pondwater (my family had a pond) and it had plenty of interesting life to view. We learned how to use a microscope. I also learned organizational skills in her class that still serve me today.”

Sylvia Windsor of the Banner remembers “a heap of dead frogs on a table the class was supposed to dissect. I sat in the back and refused to do it.” Donna Towers of Cambridge says, “She was my favorite seventh grade teacher. We did experiments, and she was a top notch teacher. She was so tall she commanded respect.” Jane was a source of inspiration to many of her pupils and girl scouts. Today, she is a source of colorful history of life lived in Cambridge for 90 years.

Back in 1912-1913, the Kirwan Farm acres sold for about $25,000, “a fair price in those days,” says Jane. “What would Grandmother think if she saw it now?” After its years as a hospital, the old Kirwan Farm now has another occupant. The Hyatt and its beautiful grounds and golf courses have erased both the farmland and the hospital buildings. Where once the actual farmhouse stood, between the Choptank River and Shoal Creek, Jane’s father and his four brothers grew up. That’s the spot where the condos at the Hyatt are located today. Indeed, what would Grandmother think?

Unfortunately, Jane took a fall on her birthday. She broke her nose, bruised herself and needed medical care on Friday. On Sunday, she says she put makeup on to cover her bruises, and celebrated her birthday with her sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Count her as one of Cambridge’s treasures.

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