Property with a purpose: School land deal draws family together

Bill Parmenter, of Kent, uses a genealogy tree to notate the stake each of his family members have in an acre parcel of land. The land, being sold by the school district, has propelled Parmenter to reconnect with family members he hasn
Bill Parmenter, of Kent, uses a genealogy tree to notate the stake each of his family members have in an acre parcel of land. The land, being sold by the school district, has propelled Parmenter to reconnect with family members he hasn't spoken to in more than 30 years.
— image credit: Ross Coyle/Kent Reporter

It's not every day that a bureaucratic land deal forces you to reconnect with distant relatives on the other side of a continent. But that's exactly what happened to Bill Parmenter when the Kent School District discussed selling the old Panther Lake elementary school.

"I always knew there was a story there," said the Kent postal worker, "but I didn't know much about it."

But as the land sale started to go through, Parmenter and the school district quickly learned just how much family history was invested in Kent.

Parmenter's great-grandfather, Isaac Parmenter, had deeded an acre of land used in Panther Lake to the school district exclusively for education, and should it not be used for education would revert to the Parmenter heirs.

Perhaps Isaac hadn't counted on having such an extended family, but in either case, it doesn't change the fact that the Parmenter line has had to divide ownership of the one-acre parcel among more than 40 extended family members.

"I think that they thought that no one really cared, no one really knew anything about it," Parmenter said.

Being the youngest child of his generation, he knew that some of his aunts, uncles and cousins had passed away and left descendants, and he would need to find them and incorporate them into the sale.

"I knew there were some holes," he said.

Using the Curran Law Firm, Parmenter contacted each family member with a stake in the acre plot to request their approval to sell it to the district.

The resulting legal discussions forced the 60-year-old Parmenter to connect – and reconnect – with an estimated 40 to 60 family members to get their approval of the sale. Some included aunts and cousins he hadn't spoken with 35 years, while others were long removed grandchildren from his great aunts and uncles.

So Parmenter produced a genealogical map of his family, following Isaac Parmenter's line to his two sons and two daughters, and on to each web down to the current generation. The genealogy map spans 15 feet of paper. But once he finished tracing Isaac's descendants, he went a few steps further and started uncovering his ancestry.

Among the things he discovered? He is a direct descendant of Revolutionary War fighters, which makes all the women in his family a Daughter of the American Revolution.

Parmenter, whose entire family has grown up in Kent, attended Kent-Meridian High School when signs at the base of Canyon Drive still said, "Population 3,000," and the Panther Lake land deal motivated him to start tracing his family's lineage back to their original French and English origins.

When his cousin, Jean Cole had her 50th class reunion at Kent-Meridian (most of Parmenter's brothers, sisters and cousins graduated from the Kent School District), he had the idea to get the family together. Twenty-five family members made it to the reunion, and Parmenter collected hundreds of family photographs to show everyone their history.

"It was kind of neat, it was fun," he said. "It was something we needed to do."

It gave Parmenter a chance to educate his family on their history and legacy.

"In many of the cases, my cousins did not know anything about the history of my great-grandfather," Parmenter said. "Their father, or their mother had never told them any of the stories."

More importantly, it gave the Parmenter clan a reason to reunite after decades of isolation.

"The only time I've seen any of my cousins is at funerals," Parmenter said.

The deal with the school went forward smoothly, and the school district has agreed to buy the acre from the family for $445,000. That money will be divided among the rest of the Parmenter family. The family agreed to the deal, with the exception of three of the Safadago family, who wanted their great-great-grandfather memorialized in the new Panther Lake school. Parmenter negotiated with the district to have the new school's multipurpose room dedicated to Isaac Parmenter, so other students will also understand some of the history of Kent.

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