A General Who Served Us

The Latest Word from John Ed Mathison

Twenty-two years ago in Montgomery, a decorated brigadier general retired from the Air Force after 30 years of distinguished service.  He was encouraged by city leaders to help serve as leader of the Montgomery Area Food Bank (MAFB).  General Parke Hinman felt a calling to help people in need.  He wasn’t looking for employment, but he wanted the rest of his life to make a difference.  He accepted the challenge and went on to serve the MAFB for 22 years!  I attended his retirement in July.

Parke Hinman and his wife Cookie were active members at Frazer on two different occasions during his assignments at Maxwell AFB.  Parke became a good friend through our mutual interest in athletics.  He was the first person to letter in football, basketball, baseball and track at the United States Air Force Academy.  He is also one of only two people who ever had a perfect score on the original Air Force Academy and West Point physical fitness testing! 

Parke attended a high school in Washington State that required ROTC.  He chose Air Force ROTC because “his mother said he looked good in blue.”  He initially got a basketball scholarship to Washington State University.  But in his freshman year, the coach took back the scholarship because he said “he wasn’t good enough to play.”  That was the wrong thing to tell Parke!

He applied to the Air Force Academy, received a congressional nomination and was accepted.  He gave leadership to the football team that had a tremendous record.  He was the most valuable player on the basketball team which went to the NCAA tournament.  He set track records that lasted for years.  He didn’t quit when his first college coach told him he wasn’t good enough.  He knew God had something better in store for him.

I wouldn’t think that an Air Force General with 30 years’ service would really fit the role of being a servant leader in a mission like the food bank that serves so many people in need.  I was certainly wrong about that!  He had a fruitful ministry at the MAFB.  I am sure he gave a lot of orders as an Air Force General, but in a service ministry like MAFB, you have to put up with a lot of unjust criticism and not many thank you’s by folks whom you are serving.  Leaders know how to do that.  Parke is a leader!

When Parke assumed leadership at the MAFB, they were dispensing about 4 million pounds of food a year.  In 2015, the Food Bank dispensed over 23 million pounds of food!  When he started, they had 9 employees – today they have 31.  The Food Bank services 37 counties in Alabama – that’s over 50% of the counties!  Compared to food banks in other parts of the country, MAFB has less employees who dispense more food!

Parke and his wife Cookie have been married 52 years.  He is a great leader and a man of deep Christian commitment.  His son described Parke as “a person with 50 years of selfless service; a godly man, a coach, a mentor, a man of unequivocal integrity who is caring, compassionate, leads by example, and is a role model.”

His employees gave glowing reports about his leadership.  They presented him with a nice embossed plaque.  They composed the content of the plaque, which says in part, “You’ve always been the person who was encouraging us to look forward, leading with humility, honesty and courage, challenging us all to do better.  You have transformed us, and we are more than we ever dreamed we could be.  You have made a lasting impact on both your food bank family and the people we serve.”  Wow, that is coming from the folks who worked for him! 

Thanks to a leader who has served the people of Alabama so well.  This should be a call to each of us as to where God is calling us to serve.  Parke followed One of higher and greater rank who said “I didn’t come to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:28).  God is not interested in our rank, but in our willingness to go where He calls us.  Thanks, Parke and Cookie, for answering that call!

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