Simply put, Gerald H. Parham was a builder. As a longtime construction project manager, he supervised the building of a number of edifices that grace Chicago’s skyline, including the Northern Trust Building, the Harris Bank Building, and the Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center among others. Family legend holds that one time while working on an un-named project, famed architect Bruce Graham was said to have uttered, “Get me Jerry Parham.”
An Oak Park resident, Jerry Parham died in hospice care recently in Berwyn after a long illness.
Born in southern Indiana in 1944, he moved to Chicago when he was a small child. Like many of that era, his family came north to find work and a better life in the rapidly expanding cities of the post-war Midwest. They settled in East Garfield Park. He graduated from Marshall High School at a time when the neighborhood was undergoing rapid social and racial change. While he wanted to obtain an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy, his father was insistent that he follow in his footsteps and get a job in construction to support himself. Never one to follow kindly parental advice, he subsequently enlisted in the Army and served three years in the 3rd Infantry Division in North Korea and West Germany.
He was a biker who owned a series of Harley-Davidsons. He met his wife Barbara in 1970 at Oxford’s Pub in Lincoln Park, and six months later they were married. They had two daughters, both of whom fondly remember the man who called them “babe” or “sugs.”
In 1990, he moved his family to Oak Park to provide his daughters with a better education. As he was very much of Chicago — the address, the accent, the attitude — that move was “a big deal,” said his daughter Nicole. “But he loved us and wanted the best for us. There was also a lot of the South in him as well, as his mother was from Virginia and raised them on a proper Southern diet.”
Despite not having a college education, he rose to the executive ranks in the construction industry, helping to erect a series of tall buildings that dot the Chicago skyline. He held senior positions at Morse-Diesel, Pepper, and CenterPoint Properties. A towering 6-feet-7, he was usually the tallest guy in the room.
“No doubt his imposing physical presence helped him hold sway over any number of characters in what was, and still is, a rough-and-tumble industry,” said his son-in-law Andrew Lennie.
Jerry Parham is survived by his wife, Barbara (nee Ostrand); his daughter, Nicole (Andrew) and Taryn (Mike); three grandchildren; his siblings, Marsha, Linda, Cheryl, and Thomas; and several nieces and nephews.
The wake will be held this Friday, April 30, from 4-8 p.m. at Peterson-Bassi Chapels, 6938 W. North Ave., Chicago.