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Vol. LVII, No. 10
May 20, 2005
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A 'Family Reunion' at Rocky Mountain Labs

 
Robert Parker, son of eminent RML scientist Dr. Ralph Parker, visits Hamilton for the first time in 42 years and reclaims some family history.  
The detective work that faced parasitologist Tom Schwan of Rocky Mountain Laboratories had nothing to do with fleas, ticks or even science. Yet, resolving the mystery is among the most satisfying feats of his career: The family of Dr. Ralph Parker now possesses his 1910-era college scrapbook.

Parker is recognized as the first director of RML, a branch of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases located in Hamilton, Mont. Parker held the post from 1928 until his death in 1949; during his career he co-developed the first vaccine against Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

After Parker's death, colleague William Jellison of RML acquired some of Parker's personal belongings. When Jellison died in 1995, Schwan found himself inheriting Parker's scrapbook.

"I've been trying to locate family members ever since," said Schwan, who is an amateur historian with a fascination for early-day RML research.

He was thrilled in early April when he heard that Parker's granddaughter had contacted RML unexpectedly to arrange a visit from Kansas with her father Robert, 80, who grew up on the RML campus in the 1920s and '30s. Robert hadn't visited Hamilton in 42 years and wanted to see his childhood home, which is now an RML administrative building on the National Register of Historic Places.

Schwan immediately telephoned the family to tell them about the scrapbook, which he presented to them during their visit on Apr. 20.

"Did you used to live in Colorado?" Schwan asked Robert Parker during the visit, still trying to piece together his sleuthing. "That's where I was last able to locate you."

"I'm thrilled they're here to accept this," Schwan said. "Dr. Parker collected everything in this scrapbook from his days in Massachusetts and it should be with his family."