Keith Parker ’58, and Leslie Parker Borhaug, ’90, father and daughter alumni, and published a book that has won the Clark Cox Historical Fiction Award from the North Carolina Society of Historians. Sons of Mercy and Justice received the following judges’ comments which best describes the book: “This is a magnificent story of the McGaha family and how they lived their lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina. It describes their way of life in such a way that the reader is able to share their emotions in all different situations and at all levels. Every now and then the story shocks us, surprises us, as something happens that was not expected… just as it happens is “real” life.”
The reader can learn a lot about life in the 1800’s here and not just from the text or story line. The authors creatively interjected dated paragraphs and attached the “headlines of the year” so that the reader knows a little more about the time period the next segment of the story takes place in.
A vast amount of history can be gleaned from this novel. It not only tells a powerful story, but it brings the people back to life, the relationships the formed, their way of life, how they lived it… and their word “respect,” a word slowly being erased from our current society. It is done in another unique manner, by weaving two stories into one. While the McGaha story is taking place in the early 1800’s, another story is beginning at the start of Summer 2012, when “Millie” is picked up at the airport by her “Mammaw,” and taken back to her house where she will spend her summer vacation. Millie would end up at the McGaha Chapel and this, in addition to family tradition, is where Millie feels the sense of “belonging.”
The book is set up where we are with the McGaha’s in one segment, Millie the next, MaGaha, Millie, and so on; past present, etc. We were taken in by both storylines, never bored… we didn’t have time to be!
Sons of Mercy and Justice: A Transylvania Story weaves past and present together leaving the reader with a taste of the people who settled the North Carolina Mountains…[/pullquote]When Keith Parker retired to his home in Transylvania, North Carolina, where Parkers and their kin have lived for two hundred years, he began to search for materials that told the history of the county, and he helped to preserve the Methodist Chapel that his great-grandfather had helped to build in 1872. These efforts brought forth letters, documents and photographs from local families, and he discovered historical documents in the county’s courthouse and library, as well as from other libraries and archives in the western end of the state. The Transylvania County Historical society, of which he is member, assumed ownership of the chapel and the historical and genealogical material that he had helped to uncover.
Keith began creating a book on the county and its people, who he found, had lived admirable lives. He enlisted the help of his daughter, Leslie, who had moved back to Transylvania County where she taught in public schools. Working together, Keith and Leslie created a memorable story beginning in the troublesome eighteen-hundreds, which seriously challenged the mountain folk of Western North Carolina, spanning to present day. The story follows the McGaha family through memorable historical moments including the beginnings of Transylvania County, the civil war, the role of bootlegging, the building of the McGaha Chapel, the fascination with the infamous Lewis Redmond and struggles with loss of family. Sons of Mercy and Justice: A Transylvania Story weaves past and present together leaving the reader with a taste of the people who settled the North Carolina Mountains and their strength that still defines the region today.
With the Clark Cox Historical fiction award from the North Carolina Society of Historians, Keith and Leslie are responding to invitations to speak and read from their book.
Keith and Leslie both live in Transylvania County, North Carolina with their families. Keith and wife, Jonlyn Truesdail Parker, had two other children who are also Berea graduates, Paul Parker ’84 and Kym Parker Sebranek ’91. Keith graduated from Berea with a degree in Biology, served as a naval officer, earned his Bachelors of Divinity and Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, earned a diploma in Analytical Psychology from the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich Switzerland, and did post graduate studies at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. He worked as an Associate Director and later Area Director for Europe from the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He has published Baptists in Europe: History and Confession of Faith (1982), and more recently Seven Cherokee Myths: Creation, Fire, Primordial Parents, the Nature of Evil, the Family Universal Suffering and Communal Obligation (2006). This award winning book is being used in select universities and colleges to teach about Cherokee stories. He currently is a certified pastoral counselor, Jungian analyst, author and speaker.
Leslie was also born in Brevard, but grew up in Europe. In Switzerland she learned to read and write in German before she enrolled in an international school in third grade where she was educated in English. In 1986 she was accepted to Berea where she said she, “Fell in love with being a teacher.” She also fell in love with Tore Borhaug, a fellow student from Norway and they were married as undergraduates. Her passion for teaching led to her major in Education under the guidance of Dr. Kathryn Akural, who has remained her mentor. In Transylvania County Leslie developed and taught programs for at-risk students and is currently working on her Masters in Reading and Literacy. As an alternative-school teacher she helped her students to research local history, then write, illustrated and publish three award winning books: Behind Closed Doors of the Allison-Deaver House (2003), Lake Toxaway… Back in the Day (2004), and Brevard Standing Alone, North Carolina’s First Integrated Football team: the Untold Story (2005). Leslie was named the 2002-2003 Transylvania County Teacher of the Year. She has most recently published under the pen name LB Tillit. Unchained, 2 Days and Edge of Ready are part of the Gravel Road series published by Saddleback Educational Publishing (2012). She has received national recognition for Unchained which won the Silver 2012 Independent Book Publisher Award for multicultural fiction-children’s. It also was a 2012 USA Best Book awards for YA Fiction finalist. Finally, the American Library Association YALSA listed Unchained as a 2013 top ten pick for struggling readers.
Keith and Leslie and their families are not the only Parkers from their immediate relatives who had the advantage of a Berea education. Keith’s sister, Patricia Parker Brunner, preceded him to Berea and graduated on 1956. Keith’s niece, Donna Parker Alexander graduated in 1991 and Patricia and Warren Brunner’s three daughters, Scharme Brunner Price, Gwen Brunner Hensley and Kara Beth Brunner graduated in 1982, 1983, and 1989.
The creation of the novel has been a powerful and rewarding experience for Keith and Leslie pulling together their love of writing and their love of local history. Sons of Mercy and Justice: a Transylvania Story can be found on amazon.com.