By Robert Lucke
The office of Dr. Reno Parker is located in the Hagener Science Center on the Montana State University- Northern campus.
It is full of books. They are stacked from floor to ceiling and cascade out from the walls almost to the middle of the floor in places. National Public Radio plays softly in the background. Then there are the signs. Mottos really, wedged in between all those books. One says, "My life is my books." Another proclaims, "A PBS mind in an MTV world." Still another reads, "If ignorance is bliss, this must be Eden."
No time to finish reading signs for in walked Dr. Parker. First thing to notice is the smile. It is as wide as the Milk River in June. It stays that way throughout the interview.
Parker looks at the books in his office. He remarks, "This is just the tip of the iceberg. You ought to see all of the books at home. I just collect books."
Parker related that his father had collected books as well. Mostly Montana history. So does his wife, Barbara.
"When we were in Missoula, the Montana Magazine of Western History came out with the 100 best Montana books written. My wife had all but two of them," he said.
One more thing. It was apparent very soon that Parker was asking more questions than he was answering. It did not take long to find out that Parker has a love of people and an inquiring mind about most anything. However, history and science are his things. They are special. He has even made that a combination in his work.
"I do a lot in the history of science in the academic world," Parker said.
Parker teaches lots of biology, lots of physiology and lots of anatomy classes. In fact, last fall he got a state award for being a "Friend of Nursing."
It's easy to see why. His classes are packed with nurses. And there is his philosophy about students.
"I am sort of like Will Rogers," he said. "I never met a student that I didn't like."
Those classes have some science majors in them, a few athletes, but nurses are the backbone and Parker is there to see that they all succeed.
"When I was at Kent State getting my Ph.D., the fellow I worked for said that students would run into enough bastards, so he didn't have to be one. That has been my philosophy as well," Parker said.
Parker bragged up MSU-Northern's nursing program. He said it is a very good program that attracts students all the way from Billings to Libby.
Parker was born in Washington state but at an early age moved to Basin, Mont. He went to school and graduated from high school in Butte. From there he attended the University of Minnesota for his undergraduate work. He did graduate work at Montana State University and received his Ph.D. from Kent State. He has been teaching at Northern for 14 years. His wife, Barbara, is the superintendent of schools at Hysham. Their son, Todd, works in the advertising department of Nordstrom in Seattle.
"I have had a long-distance marriage for the last 20 years, I guess," Parker said.
Parker thinks this is the best of all times to be teaching anatomy.
"We have to understand molecules. Just think of the importance of the Human Genome Project, where they have figured out roughly all the genes in the human body," Parker said. "I try to tell students that this will affect their lives more than they can believe."
Parker knows that people more and more are going to be looking at family pedigrees for disease and health. If someone in Parker's family gets married, he wants to see the readout of the other person's family.
And often in his thinking, his love of history comes to the forefront.
"Sometimes I think about what would we do if we were living in 1850. Would I survive? Take the medical profession that is into flu shots these days. I don't believe in them. You have to be tough enough to survive the flu," he said, smiling.
"It is a wonderful time to be alive. There are tremendous breakthroughs out there."
Parker is very optimistic about the future of MSU-Northern. Reinstating a biology major has strengthened the science department and having the time to give students individual attention throughout the school is what he thinks Northern is all about.
"I think that Northern is all about being there for the student," he said. "And I will say something else. (Chancellor) Alex Capdeville is a bright bulb in this organization. He has really helped Northern."