Charles Mason Parsons
Born in Pasadena, California on March 20, 1914, Charles Mason Parsons spent much of his early life in that beautiful oasis of the Inland Empire known as Claremont, where he learned the importance of education and economics. His older sisters, Mary Louise (b. November 15, 1907) and Elizabeth (b. October 11, 1909), both graduated from Pomona College to become teachers, obviously influencing his perspective on education. Although his father was successful in the lumber business, Clark Gable may have been more of a direct influence on Charles’ understanding of economics.
The story goes that his sisters were extras in a silent film being shot at Pomona College called “The Plastic Age,” where a young Clark Gable was also an extra in the film. One day, while sitting on the bleachers with other extras, Clark dropped his shoe. He saw 10-year-old, Charles, watching nearby and called to him, saying he would give him a quarter to retrieve his shoe. Eager to earn the quarter, Charles recovered the shoe for Clark, who took the shoe and promptly ignored the young boy. Charles waited patiently at first, but soon became upset, which prompted the extras around Clark to say, “Hey Clark! Give the poor kid his quarter!” Unwillingly, Clark paid the boy, who had now learned the value of work for pay.
Five to six years later, his family moved from Claremont to Bakersfield, where Charles completed his junior and senior years at Kern County Union High School (KCUHS, now Bakersfield High School or BHS). In 1932, his father, Walter, bought land in Buttonwillow, moving his family to start a cotton farm called Parsons Ranch. Soon after, Charles graduated from high school and matriculated to Bakersfield Junior College (now Bakersfield College or BC), which was housed at the time on the same KCUHS campus.
Charles understood firsthand the importance of junior college as a necessary step in higher education for many people. Attending junior college allowed him to help his family farm while completing his general education requirements, which is something that may not have been possible had he left for a four-year university right away. Bakersfield would not have a four-year university in its vicinity for another 30 years. Charles transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1937 with a baccalaureate degree in economics.
With his advanced education and knowledge of economics, Charles returned to Buttonwillow to run the family farm with his younger brother, John (b. September 1, 1916). Together they made Parsons Ranch an important fixture on the Kern County agricultural landscape. Ten years after completing his degree, he met Ruth “Marcelle” Whiting and her precocious two-year-old daughter, Susan.
The story goes that Marcelle was recently divorced and living with her parents in Beverly Hills. Through mutual friends, she found work as a nanny for Charles’ sister, Elizabeth, in the house next-door to his. Counting Susan, there were two girls and three boys that she looked after. One day, Susan snuck away from the house and wandered next door. Charles’ mother, Adele, answered the door, finding the precocious little two-year-old standing before her. When Marcelle came next door to retrieve her, she saw Charles descend the stairwell and was immediately struck, thinking, “He’s mine.” They began dating not long after that chance encounter. After three months as a nanny, she moved back to her parents’ home in Beverly Hills, but Charles continued visiting Marcelle and Susan. Six months later, they eloped, marrying in secret by a Justice of the Peace in late 1947. However, about one year later, they had a big family wedding in Pasadena or Claremont and honeymooned in Hawaii, keeping their secret nuptials hidden from family. Soon after, Charles adopted Susan as his own daughter, and Adele was born in 1949, followed by Christine, Rosemary, and David.
Charles was a family man, a well-known and beloved figure in Kern County agriculture, and an active leader in the Buttonwillow community. In 1952, he co-founded Community National Bank of Buttonwillow with fellow farmers Wayne L. Smith and Richard L. Adams, serving as its first president. He and his brother, John, helped introduce a culture of rice farming to the area in 1954, served as members of the Farmer’s Cooperative Gin and Buttonwillow Rice Growers Cooperative, and co-founded BW Implement. Additionally, he served as president of the Buttonwillow Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, president of the Buttonwillow Lions Club, and vice-president of the Buena Vista Water Storage District.
Charles M. Parsons spent the rest of his life cotton farming in Buttonwillow, raising his beautiful family, and enjoying his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I knew him as Grandpa Charlie, and he was one of the greatest men I ever knew. He had the sweetest eyes and smile when he looked upon me with approval and love. As a child, his nickname was Sunny due to his bright disposition. Such a fitting sobriquet, as I rarely saw him upset, but when I did, I could tell, because his ears would turn red. That indicator would be my cue to sit up, shut up, and listen. He was well educated, well read, and extremely intelligent, so I listened. I always listened to his advice. I may not have always used it, but to this day, I know what I should be doing even if I do not always do it.
He was a man loved by many, as he helped one and all. His education and knowledge assisted him in that capacity, as he was instrumental in building up the community he lived in, leaving a legacy that will long not be forgotten. He understood the importance of that foundational education, encouraging his grandchildren to complete at least the two-year degree, if not a four-year degree. He supported me emotionally and monetarily as I struggled to complete my two-year degree, which took five years. I remember him telling me how proud he was of me when he saw me walking across the stage at my graduation at Bakersfield College in May of 2001. He knew the adversity that I had to overcome to make it that far, and he truly believed in me. I will never forget that sweet smile and look in his eyes.
Eight months later, my family gathered at his condo in Redondo Beach. He struggled to breathe due to a pneumonic infection and it had gotten the best of him. He was thin and frail, sometimes lucid, but often smiling. We knew he would not last long and treated it like a family reunion. We enjoyed the time we had. I told him during one of those moments of lucidity, how I planned to take the CBEST (a test needed to qualify as a substitute teacher). He smiled proudly. I helped him sit up. We all had our brief moments with him before things took a turn for the worst.
On January 31, 2002, he died in his sleep with a beaming smile on his face, as if everything he meant to accomplish had been and he could leave peacefully to meet his lost loved ones once again in the paradise he had adamantly believed in. The funeral would be held in Bakersfield where he would be buried next to his wife who had died in 1997. I was scheduled to take the CBEST that day. The next one would not be given in the area for six months. I remember being so conflicted, wanting to just give up and go to the funeral. He was the most important man in my life and I did not want to disrespect his memory by not being in attendance.
The day of his funeral, I sat in a classroom at Highland High School in Bakersfield, taking the CBEST. It took up much of my morning and afternoon. Finally, I reached the written portion of the exam, and almost as if it was meant to be, the prompt asked me to describe the person who had the most influence in my life. I wrote about my grandfather. I wrote about how important education was to him. I wrote about how loving he was and how much people loved him. I wrote about how his funeral was happening right now, but I was not there. I wrote about how my mother, aunts, and uncle all reassured me that my grandfather would not have wanted me to miss taking the CBEST just to go to his funeral. I wrote about how he would have wanted me to succeed and not hold myself back, because he would never want to be put first like that.
My grandfather understood the importance of education and the struggle of those facing adversity, because he helped and supported me. To continue that legacy, I am creating a scholarship fund in his name with the mission to provide financial support for community and junior college students facing adversity, so that their educational progress will go uninterrupted.
Grandson of Charles M. Parsons, son of Adele L. Parsons