Remembering ‘the mother of elder care’ during Women’s History Month

Jean Rebele, chief administration and talent officer for Parker Health Group, left to right; Eleanor Molloy, president of the Elmwood Cemetery Association; and Donna Silbert, chief strategy officer for Parker, commemorate the birthday of Henrietta Parker, "The Mother of Elder Care."

“The mother of elder care” is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in North Brunswick at the base of a Roman-style monument.

On March 29, representatives from Parker Health Group walked to Parker’s grave and placed a bouquet of flowers to mark her birthday, according to information provided by Parker Health Group.

For Chief Administration and Talent Officer Jean Rebele and Chief Strategy Officer Donna Silbert and others at Parker Health Group, it’s not only important to make sure her resting place is well-maintained, but they feel a proud, solemn duty to educate people about Parker’s remarkable place in history, according to the statement.

Henrietta “Etta” (Macaulay) Parker was born around 1866 and married Francis E. Parker. Francis Parker was a successful New York City attorney with roots in New Brunswick.

He contracted a debilitating illness in 1903. When he passed away Feb. 10, 1905, the obituary on the front page of The Daily Home News reported that Parker required constant care in the last years of his life, according to the statement.

“Francis thought about others who were ill and surely needed constant attention as he did, but couldn’t afford that kind of care,” Silbert said in the statement. “He wanted Henrietta to help these people.”

From her husband’s dying wish, Henrietta Parker opened the nursing care home near Buccleuch Park just two years later. She shared the belief that local residents suffering from chronic illnesses should have the opportunity to live in a comfortable, home-like environment with excellent and affordable nursing care, according to the statement.

Parker donated a portion of the land surrounding the family’s home in New Brunswick to build the Francis E. Parker Memorial Home for so-called “incurables” to receive affordable quality nursing care. In the subsequent decades, the home at the corners of Easton Avenue and Landing Lane in New Brunswick – named for Parker’s husband, Francis – would become her life’s work. Parker is now widely remembered for starting a movement, providing compassionate quality, long-term nursing for elders.

Today, this nursing home is known as Parker at Landing Lane – part of an expansive, ever-growing network that includes Parker campuses in nearby Piscataway, Highland Park, Somerset and Monroe Township.

“Henrietta Parker’s remarkable legacy is being carried out to this day – every day,” Parker President and CEO Roberto Muñiz said in the statement.

The last time the world was faced with a global pandemic – the Spanish flu of 1918-20 – her financial generosity helped Saint Peter’s Hospital help save the lives of countless New Brunswick residents and others who flocked in from the countryside for care, according to the statement.

“Saint Peter’s Hospital was one of the better hospitals in New Brunswick, if not New Jersey,” Eleanor Molloy, president of the Elmwood Cemetery Association, said in the statement. “Part of that was because of the support staff and people who were committed to treating chronically ill patients. And, of course, because of the generosity of people like Henrietta Parker.”

While building and running an organization, Parker raised three daughters. She married Gustaf Stromberg on her birthday in 1913.

Henrietta Parker Stromberg died in 1931, hailed as the mother of elder care in New Brunswick and the inspiration behind Parker Health Group’s steadily expanding footprint and levels of aging services while elevating the level of quality care for elders, according to the statement.

There is still Parker’s legacy home on Landing Lane, where portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Parker greet visitors.

“It’s been 114 years since the nursing home on Landing Lane opened and our dedication to carrying out Henrietta’s vision of compassionate, quality nursing care has never wavered,” Rebele said in the statement.

“It’s important to recall the legacy that Henrietta left behind during Women’s History Month,” Silbert said in the statement. “The truth is, that legacy lives on each day in everything we do.”