Readers turn to World War II veteran, former Braintree professor

QUINCY – When I interviewed Howard Jefferson Parker Jr., 96, about his early years in Quincy and teaching at the former Penniman School in Braintree in the 1950s, I never thought I’d find someone to have him as a teacher.

Parker, who now lives in Mississippi, left Massachusetts in the late 1950s. In October, more than 77 years after he completed his World War II military service, he received the Action Ribbon of Navy struggle for courage and persistence in hostile enemy action in the Pacific theater.

Howard Jefferson Parker Jr., 96, right, with U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, Miss Rep., who presented him with the Navy Combat Action Ribbon in October 2022.

Born in Quincy in 1926, he grew up in Wollaston, taught in Braintree for three years in the 1950s, then went to New York State, where he had a long career as a teacher and principal, retiring in 1982. When he I interviewed. Three weeks ago, for this column, I assumed he was now out of touch with any of his former Braintree students.

I was wrong.

Shortly after his award column appeared on November 15th, I received an email from Tom Welch. I have known Tom over the years as a member of the renowned Welch Nursing Home and Senior Living Center. He now serves as a justice of the peace and officiates weddings. He was ordained as a parish priest by the Archdiocese of Boston in 1968 and served in parishes in the Boston area for many years before requesting a continuous leave of absence after 23 years of pastoral ministry.

Thomas A. Welch in the 1950s as a fifth grader at the former Penniman School in Braintree, when Jefferson Parker taught.

“Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your article on Quincy native Jefferson Parker,” Welch wrote. “He was my 5th grade teacher at Penniman School on Cleveland Avenue in Braintree. He was an excellent teacher and role model; every student was special to him. I have kept in touch with him for the past 30 years. When someone touches your heart, it never goes away.”

Parker called Welch to tell him to follow up on the Ledger article.

“I alerted another fellow fifth grader who was excited to read the article as well,” Welch said.

Thomas Welch, 80, of Weymouth, had a 30-year friendship with his former fifth-grade teacher.

It was a wonderful surprise because readers often provide the most fruitful connections with each other.

Parker said Welch happened to find him on the Internet a few years ago out of the blue, and they’ve stayed in touch ever since.

“That’s how it is today. It’s unbelievable,” Parker said of modern communications. He appreciated being in touch with Welch, especially since his wife died last year at age 97.

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