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Retired math teacher shares his inventions

WOODSTOCK – Andrew Parke’s creations, which fill about 50 boxes in his Woodstock basement, aren’t easy to describe.

Many of them look like an M.C. Escher art piece come to life and wouldn’t be out of place at the Museum of Science and Industry.

The pieces will be available locally, though, on display at the McHenry County Historical Society Museum on July 20.

Plexiglass cut into helices that look like a DNA molecule, which Parke rolls along the floor. Multi-colored gears from toy kits fastened together with nuts, bolts and washers forming a spherical shape with all the gears turning together. Small bits of particle board on hinges that fold out to make a cube. 

Sometimes, he can’t remember how he made a piece, surmising that he may have started with a balloon to hold the original shape.

Parke, 80, had planned on becoming an engineer, but he said the calculus concepts did him in. Plus, there wasn’t enough of a “people” aspect to it.

“The thing I didn’t like [is] most of the people in engineering talked about things and specifications and materials,” Parke said. “They didn’t really talk about people.” 

And so he instead became an elementary school teacher, which he did for 39 years. 

When he was teaching, Parke would bring in dozens of his inventions at once to give his students the opportunity to pursue subjects that interested them outside of the curriculum. 

“I said to the children, ‘You can work with these things I have built – I never said play – as long as you got your work done.’ They got a great deal of work done as a result.”

Back then, he made more electronics, like a 65-pound alarm clock with programmable minutes that enabled him to get his fifth-graders to their music lessons on time.

Now, he’s switched to more geometrical objects and uses more PVC pipe than copper since the price of the latter went up. 

He’ll buy a toy kit in the mail for $50 but use the parts for years. 

“I would say no, it’s not terribly expensive, but when you’ve had up to 200 things you’ve built in the last nine years, it can add up,” Parke said. 

His inventions take up about 120 cubic feet, but aside from a few small pieces, that’s only what he’s created since moving to Illinois from New York in 2005. Almost all of the things he made before the move didn’t come along. 

The items he’s building now may not have a practice use, but that doesn’t stop Parke from heading to the basement for an hour or so every day.

Parke said his items recently were on display in an activity room at Hearthstone Communities, where he and his wife live. The historical society's administrator, Kurt Begalka, saw the collection while visiting. 

Begalka thought enough of Parke’s creations that he wanted to put them on display, so that’s something, Parke said.

“That to me is confirmation of the value, if nothing else,” he said. 

He’ll be building as long as he can.

“I make stuff whether I have anybody to show it to or not,” he said.

Parke’s creations will be on display July 20 from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the McHenry County Historical Society Museum, 6422 Main St., Union.

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