Cover Story

Collecting The Prize

Cooperative Living’s oldest-issue contest winner, avid collector Charles “Lewis” Parks proves the old adage that one man’s trash truly is another man’s treasure.

by Laura Emery, Field Editor 

Laura Emery Photo

It was a windy afternoon on the small island of Tangier nearly 20 years ago.     

Charles “Lewis” Parks, then in his early 20s, was riding his bike down Tangier’s narrow streets when he saw something that made him stop to take a second look — the local landfill.

There were sheets of paper dancing in the gusts of wind, and the sound of them fluttering haphazardly could be heard from some distance away. “I saw the papers blowing everywhere, and curiosity made me stop to check it out,” Parks explains.

As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Parks stumbled across an old issue of Rural Virginia, the precursor to Cooperative Living, dated July 1948. The headline read: “Youngest Electric Cooperative in State a Year Old: More Than 200 at First Annual Meeting on Tangier Island.”

Being an avid collector and one who appreciates anything having to do with Tangier’s history, Parks took the paper home with him.

At the time, Parks had no idea that 20 years later this old issue would make him the winner of a reader contest to find the oldest issue of Cooperative Living. “I read the magazine all the time, but I was surprised when I got the phone call saying I had the oldest issue,” Parks, a Richmond resident, says. “I kept the old issues because I am interested in anything relating to Tangier.” Parks is employed by Flooring Unlimited in Chesterfield, where he has worked for a year. He lives with his parents, Sam and Vivian Parks.

Parks was born in Richmond, but his family is from Tangier Island — a place where breathtaking sunsets are an everyday experience, the Chesapeake Bay waters glisten in the sun, and the natives have a distinct Elizabethan dialect representative of the island’s original English settlers.

“I used to stay on Tangier during the summers as a kid, and I moved back there when I got out of the Army in 1988. Tangier is a great place. I always enjoyed being over there,” he says. As a child, Parks would work in his uncle’s grocery store, Haynie Grocery, on the island. “People who have been here and seen my collection say I have the largest collection of things from Tangier,” he says with pride.

(Left) Parks is an avid collector (Right) Parks lives with his parents, Sam and Vivian Parks.

His fascination with collecting antiques started at the young age of four. “I would collect bottle caps, matchbooks, and gum wrappers as a kid. Now, I collect anything and everything,” he says, with a smile. “I’ve found some really cool stuff over the years too.” Parks has collected so many items over the years that he eventually ran out of room, and had to sell a lot of them. “I just couldn’t hold onto all of it,” he says.

Parks collaborated with local writer  Kirk Mariner to provide old photographs for his book, God’s Island: The History of Tangier. “A lot of the old photographs I’ve collected over the years got included in the book, which I thought was nice,” Parks says.

Although Parks was featured, at the age of 14, in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, his collecting adventures have never landed him on the cover of a magazine. He says, “I almost didn’t enter the contest, but I’m glad I did now.”

Thanks for the Memories

We received many entries for our oldest-issue contest — but even more special to us were the comments we received from many of you.

For example, 83-year-old Margaret Fitzgerald of Waynesboro said that she has collected 102 issues over the years. She wrote, “I enjoy reading my Shenandoah Valley Cooperative Living. I had them all from 1969  ...  in 1985 my home burnt from lightning. I lost my magazines. Then, my husband became ill and the cleaning lady always destroyed my magazines.”

The Spotsylvania Historical Association wrote in saying that a 1962 Rural Virginia publication showed up in the Spotsylvania County museum. The letter read, “We thought you would like to know that somebody cared enough to preserve your magazine by donating it along with some other items to our organization.”

George Moltz of Culpeper wrote about his 1971 issue of Rural Living: “I saved the magazine because it contains a story about the school at which I taught and contains a picture of me and one of my students. I have the entire magazine and enjoy looking at it now because of the memories it brings back.”

We received a letter from V&R Rhodes Farms, located in Broadway, that read, “I found a copy of Rural Living dated March 1971 in the dairy barn on the old Rhodes homeplace where the Broadview Dairy operated for decades. M.D. Rhodes began the dairy in 1922 and was the first president of Shenandoah Pride from April 1922 to August 1938.”


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