In session with Joe Parkhurst
Counseling background helps JP
Joe Parkhurst hasn’t hung up his robes just yet.
The justice of the peace of Precinct 1 will soon complete his 11th year in office. He originally planned to stay two terms. When he leaves on Dec. 31, 2010, he will have made it to three.
The former educator/ guidance counselor was a teacher seven years and a school counselor for 28. But the 67-year-old says don’t look for him to quit working.
While drawing a pension from his teaching days, he will continue to serve as Pinehurst’s municipal judge and look for other part-time work, he says.
“I’ve worked all my life. I was teaching at the age of 21. I’ve enjoyed the [justice’s] job for the most part but it ties you down. You don’t get a vacation as such – you take time off. But when you take time off you’ve got to get somebody to cover for you.”
Usually, that’s another judge, which “doubles-up” their hours, he says. Which he hates to do.
“The job is so different than what I thought it would be when I came in. I said to myself, ‘How many evictions can there be in Orange County? One or two a week?’ Well, it’s actually more like eight to 10 a week.”
Same with ordering autopsies. “One week out of the month I’m on call, and that’s for the whole county. I’ve had as many as seven deaths in one night, and you have to sleep with one eye open because that phone’s going to ring and of course you have to get right up and get going … After a while that takes its toll.”
Parkhurst was raised in the Cove area, what he calls the poor side of town.
His family moved from Henderson to Orange during World War II, and his mother found a job at the shipyards doing electrical work. Even with weekly wages coming in, his household never saw use of a car until he was 11.
“We did have bus service in those days – if we could afford a ticket.”
Since he walked a long way to shop in Orange, he left anything that needed to be kept cool in the store’s refrigerator. Or it would spoil on the trip back. Since his uncle owned the store, he would drop them off at Parkhurst’s house after work.
Those experiences have helped the judge’s counseling and JP work, especially when dealing with youths who get into trouble, he says.
“I think it gives me an advantage with them, with these poor kids that are not going to school. It gives me an advantage because of my upbringing. I grew up poor as anything … That’s helped me out in talking to these kids, expressing to them how important their education is … I tell them ‘If you get your education, doors are going to open for you … your education is your ticket out.’”
Of course, he sees many of those kids back in court for arraignments, so his theory only works sometime. On the other hand …
“I’ve had many people I worked with come back to see me as adults and say, ‘You know, if not for you I don’t know what would have happened.’”
Parkhurst taught English and journalism for the West Orange-Cove, Bridge City and Orangefield districts. He counseled for WO-C and later in the Little Cypress-Mauriceville district. He graduated from Bridge City High School, played baseball at Sam Houston State while pursuing his bachelor’s degrees in English and journalism. The sports information director at Sam Houston for two years,
Parkhurst later got his master’s degree in guidance counseling at McNeese State. While at Sam Houston, he remembers the tuition
being $50 and a brand new dorm room only $450 for an entire year.
The JP 1 office is the only one of the four Orange County precinct offices actually in the courthouse. Parkhurst says that fact can be a burden at times – but a blessing at others.
“A lot of people don’t know where to go when they need their JP, so they just come down to the courthouse. And I’m the only JP here and I hate to turn anyone away. I’m not going to tell them, ‘You need to go all the way over to Vidor and have a nice day.’ It means some extra work for sure, but I probably get more weddings than anybody else.”