By Claire Harlin
When Sherryl Parks retired in 2006, she didn’t stop.
She traveled to Gulf Port, Miss., in 2007 to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and she traveled to Africa in 2009 to feed children living near the resourced-drained diamond mines of Namibia. Having recently wrapped up a four-year elected term on Del Mar’s St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Vestry, which advises the priest on community relations, she’s ready for her next commitment – Del Mar City Council.
“My mom always told me to do one thing at a time, and do it endlessly,” said Parks, who has long been familiar with Del Mar and its residents through serving a term on the Design Review Board in 2000 and watching her former husband, Elliot Parks, serve as Del Mar Mayor during the 1990s. “I typically do one term and don’t go on. I don’t see myself as a political person. I’m just a resident signing up for a job, a four-year job, and my focus is to do this term the best that I can.”
While Parks didn’t have to do much campaigning for the unopposed seat, to which she was installed in December, she’s not a stranger to the process. She has worked on the campaigns of several former council members, such as Crystal Crawford and Jan McMillan, and some of the many community members who have witnessed Park’s dedicated grassroots efforts and involvement over the years have long encouraged her to run for a seat herself. She also accompanied her former husband as he traveled statewide representing Del Mar in the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and she took an invested interest in the Del Mar Library at that time, even serving as the co-chair of the building’s opening. She also served as president of the Del Mar Foundation Board, where she held a seat for six years.
But it’s not the issues of the day that she remembers from her daily involvement, and especially her former husband’s mayorship, more than a decade ago.
“I don’t remember every detail of how he voted,” she said. “What stuck with me was the active citizen involvement that was found at City Hall. And to this day, I’m not cynical about it, I’m still excited about it.”
At 67, Park’s involvement in the community hasn’t waned. For years she has volunteered at least once a week as a cashier at the St. Peter’s Thrift Shop and she has also opened up her home to fellow community members to hold educational events and classes under the city’s Community Emergency response team (CERT) and the NEST program (Neighborhood Emergency Support Team). She now works with a group sewing pillowcases for kids with Conkerr Cancer, an activity she plans to continue throughout her council term, and she was also asked about four years ago to serve on the editorial board for the Sandpiper, for which she has enjoyed writing stories about community members and city employees who have “given their heart and soul to the city,” she said.
While her list of service and activities is extensive, that’s only a small facet of Parks’ life. A mother of two grown sons, Joshua and Cameron, her role in life was once much different when her boys were at home. Then, she was a working mom – teaching at The Bishop’s School and San Dieguito High School Academy for a short time before taking a job at the University of California, San Diego, where she worked for 23 years as a counselor in the medical school. At that job, her focus was community building among new students, many of whom underwent major transitions moving to the area from out of state or overseas, and in 1996, she was one of 13 employees – out of 13,000 campus-wide – to win an Exemplary Employee of the Year Award for introducing stress-management programs and launching a support group for medical students’ wives. Parks hosted dinners several times a year at her home in order to jump-start the women into a supportive social life to ease the stress of transition and alone time while their husbands finished school. To this day, she still keeps in touch with some of the women who she helped through the support group.
“They called me the Med School Mom,” Parks said.
Parks also served on the Del Mar Hills Elementary site council when her sons were in school, in addition to keeping up with their many various activities.
“You live and build the lives of your children and then when they are strong and independent, the second half of life is new and exciting,” said Parks, who has taken on more responsibility in the community since retiring and becoming an empty-nester over the past decade. “Your kids are your life, and then when they grow up and you did a good job, you look for something else to do. Some people are fulfilled with creative things, but for me it’s service.”
According to Parks, women have a long life – meaning that mothers go through so many transitions. And while transitions can often be difficult, Parks said life has only gotten better as she has taken new paths.
“We have such rich little souls, but they have to be nurtured and stimulated,” she said. “Life is very rich if you keep listening to yourself … If you try something on and it doesn’t fit, you have to try something else on.”
As for stepping into a council role, Parks has now filled her calendar with civic meetings and she said she’s in the perfect spot in life to dedicate herself fully to public service.
“When I was considering running, I was thinking, ‘I’m middle-aged, but I’m not done yet, and I can really bring something to the table,’” she said.
Understanding the people of Del Mar and knowing what has worked in the past and what doesn’t will be a huge asset to the council, she said, adding that patience will be key.
“I understand how to deal with the people of Del Mar to build a consensus and move forward,” she said. “You have to be a good listener and engage everyone. Just because you get it doesn’t mean that everyone is on the same page … Sometimes it takes time to accomplish things, and I’m prepared for that.”