Life

Heroes from Home: The Parkhill Family

By FRED KRONER
fred@mahometnews.com

This is one of a continuing series the Mahomet Daily will publish periodically about the ordinary men and women — or families — from the community who have done or accomplished extraordinary things in their lifetime. We encourage readers to submit nominations for other deserving individuals who warrant consideration. We are delighted to tell the stories of these persons who have contributed so much, often without the recognition they were due.

A century ago, 46-year-old Theodore (T.D.) Parkhill and his wife, Emilie, moved themselves and their family of eight children from the mining areas surrounding Christopher to Champaign.

The year was 1918.

“They left southern Illinois because of union problems in the mines, and riots,” said one of Theodore’s grandsons, Bergen Parkhill, who is now 84, and living in Champaign.

“It was almost worse than Chicago at that time.”

T.D. Parkhill was an entrepreneur who tried different ventures, including farming, mining, owning a bakery and selling automobiles.

“He was ahead of his time,” said another grandson, Robert Parkhill, now 93, and living in Florida.

His grandfather — who had been part owner of a Chevrolet dealership in Benton — opened a Chevrolet dealership in Champaign in 1920, but then switched to Oldsmobile in 1923 when the business relocated to South Neil St.

A decade later, the family added the Cadillac brand.

The business was known as Parkhill Motors.

“He was thinking what to do, and buses were being built,” Robert Parkhill said. “He bought a bus and that was the start of Illini Coach Company (which became Illini Swallow Lines).”

Two of his sons, Bill and Earl, ran the bus company.

“They decided to run tours,” Bergen Parkhill said.

Parkhill Tours was in operation for several decades before it was sold in 1992.

Two other brothers, John and Olen, eventually took over the automobile business.

Robert Parkhill is the oldest of Olen’s four sons. He was followed by Bud, Tom and Jim.

By the early 1930s, the family influence was being felt in Mahomet.

“My grandfather came to Mahomet and started buying farms,” said Bud Parkhill, 76, who lives in Mahomet.

“He paid about $50 an acre for around 160 acres,” Robert Parkhill added.

It wasn’t an impressive area.

“There was a gravel road entrance that was overgrown, almost like a trail,” said Robert Parkhill, a former Air Force pilot.

“My dad bought a couple of airplanes and I would land on the land they were working by the lake.”

The family’s land acquisitions included the north part of what is now known as the Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve as well as a farm where Lakeview Subdivision is located.

“About 1946, my granddad (T.D.) and my dad (Olen) thought about putting a lake out there,” Robert Parkhill said. “I helped clear the ground.

“Damming up that stream and building the lake was a happenstance, but it was a good move to do that.”

It was originally considered a risky proposition.

Robert Parkhill recalled personnel from the University of Illinois predicted, “it wouldn’t hold water because of the gravel base,”

The gravel was mined, and Bud Parkhill said, “a lot of it went to Willard Airport to build the runway.”

According to Bergen Parkhill, the sale of the gravel, “paid for the farm, basically.”

The lake venture proved fruitful, too.

“It became quite an attraction,” Bergen Parkhill said. “Everybody was coming out. It was the biggest (lake) in Champaign County at the time.”

The Keen family owned property just to the south of the Parkhill’s estate.

The two families later collectively sold their interest in that land to the Champaign County Forest Preserve, which led to the creation of Lake of the Woods and an 18-hole golf course.

“He (T.D.) had boys and was trying to figure out what to do with them,” Robert Parkhill said. “All the boys worked in the family. It was a living.”

In time, the various family endeavors switched hands.

“Then my generation got involved,” Bud Parkhill said, “and bought land east of Prairieview Road.”

In 1964, he started Candlewood Estates, and added, “I’m still here.”

In 1968, Robert Parkhill, Richard Parkhill and Bergen Parkhill moved Parkhill Motors from its location in the 700 block of South Neil to the Carriage Center, further south on the same street.

“We joined two other dealerships (on the property),” Robert Parkhill said.

“I spent 42 years in the automobile business,” Bergen Parkhill added. “In 1998, Parkhill and Sullivan Chevrolet merged.”

Taking over the reigns were Bergen Parkhill’s son, David, and Kevin Sullivan.

David Parkhill still operates the business.

Selling cars wasn’t Bergen Parkhill’s first thought for a career.

“When I was in high school, I wanted to be a doctor,” Bergen Parkhill said, “but I got into chemistry, and didn’t like chemistry.”

After he finished college, he said, “my uncle wanted me to come back and, in 1955, I started selling used cars.

“I liked the car business and it was something that evolved.”

Robert Parkhill is pleased by the family’s role in the development and expansion of northwestern Champaign County.

“Mahomet has been very good to us,” he said.

Bud Parkhill recalled that (Mahomet’s) “very first subdivision was built in 1954.”

Park Hill’s Subdivision is where Bud and his wife (the former Janet Cade) have lived for 43 years.

“My dad platted it and put the streets in,” Bud Parkhill said. “It was just a farmhouse at that time.”

The original house is still standing today after being relocated to a rural area north of the village.

Over the years — now encompassing parts of five generations — the Parkhills have been involved with the automobile business, the bus business, developments, farming, the gravel business and subdivisions while in Champaign County.

For a time, they branched into cable systems.

“It was a family operation,” Bud Parkhill said. “I come from a big family. There were a lot of brothers and cousins.”

Even Bud Parkhill’s youngest brother, Jim, was involved, despite leaving central Illinois for the Houston area — where he still lives — after graduating from the University of Illinois.

“He helped develop some of the properties during the summers (of his college years),” Bud Parkhill said.

In Texas, Jim Parkhill works as a leasing agent.

For his part, Bud Parkhill is pleased to have played a role.

“I’ve lived the life of a half-dozen people,” he said. “If I expired tomorrow, I wouldn’t have a regret.”

He remains active, but in a different capacity than in decades past.

“At my age and stage, I support my boys,” Bud Parkhill said. “I’m in maintenance mode.”

His preference was for a team approach as opposed to an individual approach.

“I was very fortunate,” Bud Parkhill said. “I had good people working with me, not necessarily for me.

“I had good mentors and that’s invaluable. The people I cherished were ones who gave me a PhD in life experiences, rather than through a formal education.”

Though he attended classes at the University of Illinois for “a couple years,” Bud Parkhill added, “I wasn’t a good student and I new what I wanted to do.”

He continues to arrive at his office in Candlewood by 8 a.m. to “put in a full day.”

Candlewood’s day-to-day operations are handled by Kim Wygant, a 19-year employee.

“I have an excellent manager here,” Bud Parkhill said. “She’s the one that holds it together.

“I’m her backup. She does a magnificent job.”

Parkhill’s future was nurtured as a child.

“I was more interested in outdoors and the development part of things,” Bud Parkhill said. “My father put my brother Tom and I on dirt-moving equipment when I was in high school.”

While many of the Parkhills have made their mark in sales or real estate, Bud Parkhill finds it ironic that his brother Tom chose to be a farmer.

“Of all the Parkhills, he has the best personality,” Bud Parkhill said, “but he’s in a profession he didn’t have to deal with people.”

Tom Parkhill made a name for himself during the 1962-63 school year, finishing as the runner-up for Mahomet-Seymour High School in the single-class state golf tournament.

Golf was never a passion for Bud Parkhill.

“I attempted it,” he said, “but it frustrated me too much.”

The Parkhill legacy in the area will continue indefinitely.

Bud Parkhill’s sons — Troy and Tony — each have two children.

Those four grandchildren of Bud Parkhill have a stake in the ownership of buildings on East Main Street where Project 47, Breaking Taco and the WesPark development are located.

“It has been a good life,” Bud Parkhill said.

A century of memories is the result, not only for the Parkhills, but also for area residents who have been touched by the family’s contributions.

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