Q&A: Page Johnson Parkhill

Q&A: Page Johnson Parkhill

You name the golf course, Page Johnson Parkhill has visited it.

That's just how it is when you're the proud mom of one of the best players to ever swing a stick in Champaign.

"Oh my goodness," she says. "I have walked miles and miles and miles following Clayton playing golf."

Over the last several months, the 58-year-old mother of two has applied that same go-anywhere attitude to a different cause. Not long after her world was turned upside down by a diagnosis of ALS, she found a doctor she liked and began making regular visits.

So what if his office happens to be in Ann Arbor, Mich.?

After being honored this week by the Junior League of Champaign County, the first recipient of the Jen Smith Living Legendary Award talked about her battle, the Beatles and much more.

If you could, tell us about how you learned you had ALS.

It all started with a droopy left foot. When I walked, the foot kinda dragged. Pretty soon, I was tripping on door thresholds and rugs. Soon, the falling got more pronounced.

I had always been a fairly athletic person. I had played tennis until about five years ago, and I played golf as a youth and enjoyed it as an adult. And I used to walk two miles every day. So I knew there was something wrong when I was falling. I was diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic on Aug. 22.

It was devastating.

Who's the doctor you found?

I am seeing a Chinese practitioner in private practice. He does acupuncture for me, he does foot reflexology, he does meridian line massage (part of Chinese medicine).

Last fall, I made a round-trip there every single week. Since the beginning of the year, I have been going every other week.

Did your children have a tough time when you broke the news to them?

They were devastated, but they have been tremendously supportive. My daughter, Whitney, took a four-month leave of absence from her job at Target in Minneapolis to come and care for me. She was the one who drove me to Ann Arbor almost every week. We were on the road a lot together. In a general sense, she is my greatest and most enthusiastic cheerleader. I really adore her sense of humor.

I would recommend that she join the Junior League. The league is a fantastic way to meet people you probably wouldn't cross paths with otherwise. It also gives you the opportunity to volunteer in a variety of civic ways you might not otherwise have access to.

When did you get involved?

My mother was a member of the League when it was called the Junior Service League, back in the '60s, so I grew up hearing about the Junior League. I'm a native of this area, but my husband and I lived in Houston for a few years, and that was where I first started with the Junior League. I joined at the age of 22. There, I worked for First City National Bank. The bank holding company had 62 banks in the state of Texas. We first moved to St. Louis from Houston, and then we moved back to Champaign.

What was your role here?

I was the treasurer. I'm the only one who doesn't turn tail and run when it comes to balancing a checkbook.

Tell us about the William S. Johnson Fund that you started with your two brothers, Bill and David.

It is named after my father, who was a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Carle for 27 years. When he came here, he was the only plastic and reconstructive surgeon in East Central Illinois. The fund pays for medical nurses to travel to third world countries. A team of surgeons donate their time and pay for their own expenses. The Johnson Fund pays for the nurses to accompany the surgeons.

They do cleft lip and cleft palate. The surgeries are performed free of charge to indigent children in these third world countries. I've been to the Philippines, Nicaragua, Mexico, Honduras and Venezuela. I've been able to see the children who are helped out firsthand. We have helped children as young as six months old, and I think the oldest patient was 28. But we primarily serve children under the age of 12.

I can't imagine a better feeling than to watch a child's face being transformed. Lip surgery takes about 45 minutes. Palate surgeries usually take about an hour and a half. It fundamentally changes that child's life. My father had a passion for this work, and he would have been proud of what the fund has been able to do. Today, the fund is part of the Carle Center for Philanthropy.

You also mentored a student?

I decided to become a mentor through the C-U One-to-One Mentoring program. I first met my student when she was a fourth-grader at Bottenfield Elementary School, and I have followed with her at Edison Middle School and Central High School. She graduated last May, and I am proud to tell you she is a student at Parkland College, where she is studying to be a medical assistant.

I am very, very proud of her. She has overcome an incredible number of obstacles. I would recommend other adults to consider becoming a mentor. I loved my mentoring experience. This is one opportunity where you can see the tangible benefits of your work.

You love tennis. Have a favorite player to root for?

I like Rafael Nadal. I just like his spunk and his athleticism. I think he's pretty terrific.

Favorite golf course?

The Olympic Club in San Francisco. That was the site of Clayton's first U.S. Amateur Championship competition.

Favorite food?

Chocolate. I didn't have to think very long to come up with that one.

Last one. When you were a girl, whose poster was on your wall?

The Beatles! I was a Beatle fan through and through. My favorite, though, was Paul McCartney. I listened to their music and did the twist with "Twist and Shout."


The Jen Smith Award

About the namesake: Jennifer Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30 and died six years later, on Sept. 28, 2013. The Junior League of Champaign-Urbana created a "living Legendary Award in her honor "to celebrate her passion and compassion; she taught us how to live life to its fullest in spite of tragic circumstances."

About the winner: Champaign's Page Johnson Parkhill sits on the board of directors of BankChampaign. She and her husband John have two children, Whitney, 30, and Clayton, 27.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (2):Health Care, People

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HBAmsbary wrote on May 22, 2015 at 6:05 pm

Great to see this story about Page. She mentions the William S. Johnson Fund, but there is no information about how people can donate to help support Page's effort & I found nothing with an online search. Page told me years ago that she worked with the Smile Train, it is nice to see she has continued to support that kind of outreach.