The late Senator Sam Ervin from North Carolina once said, "Park is one of the finest human beings the good Lord ever created and he has one of the most important characteristics of all—an understanding heart."
Park was a complex and multi-faceted man, and a true entrepreneur. He made a fortune in the food industry before becoming a media giant in nearly half of the United States. He was also a modest man and an admitted workaholic who rarely discussed business in social settings. He never made an issue of his success and was vital, tough, and giving.
Roy H. Park was born in Dobson, North Carolina, in 1910. A precocious student, he graduated from high school at age 15. Entering North Carolina State University, after turning down an acceptance at Duke University, partly because he could drive his brother's roadster there, he studied business and journalism. After he crashed his brother's car, he took a job as an office boy in the Associated Press bureau in Raleigh to repay him. By the time he left, he was covering the Governor's Office and hobnobbing with the most influential people in North Carolina.
After graduation, Park sought a job in public relations and advertising with the North Carolina Cotton Growers Cooperative Association. To get the job he took his resume in a colored envelope to the post office and asked the postmaster to put it in the Co-op's box while he watched. Then he waited by the box until a person came to pick up the mail, and stepped up and politely asked him to open the easily identifiable envelope first. The strategy worked. The person turned out to be the head of the Co-op and Park got the job.
During a 10-year stint at the Cooperative, he initiated a program to revitalize the public image of cotton fabrics. One of his innovations was to stage "cotton balls," highly publicized cotillions hiring big name bands where every participant dressed in cotton formal wear.
Impressed with Park's achievements in Raleigh and with the Cooperative Digest magazine started by young Park, H. E. Babcock, founder of the Grange League Federation (now Agway throughout New York State) invited Park to head the huge Cooperative's foundering advertising agency. Babcock promised Park that he could earn-out ownership if he was successful. In less than five years, Park acquired the company and employed 125 people, with several branches in other cities.
Park's ad agency was retained to handle the successful agricultural electorate of New York State Governor Thomas E. Dewey's campaign for the Presidency in 1948. With Park's help, Dewey won over the farmers, despite losing the election to Harry Truman.
Ithaca became home and eventually the headquarters for Park Communications. Dorothy Park said she and Roy planned to live in Ithaca only for a few years with the notion they would eventually move back to North Carolina. Their fondness of Ithaca quickly grew, and it became their permanent home.
In 1949, the Grange League Federation asked Park to find a trademark name under which they could sell their excess food products, and he went after the top name in eating—Duncan Hines. Hines, famed for his guidebooks and display signs recommending top restaurants nationwide, was synonymous with gourmet cuisine. Using their common interest in watches to gain an audience, Park soon broached his idea of introducing and merchandising fine foods that would bear the Duncan Hines name, convincing him that his name was the only one worthy of a line of fine foods.
Premium-priced Duncan Hines Cake Mix was the first product, and it soon vaulted to number one on the nation's grocery shelves. Park pioneered over 100 additional products that were credited with liberating America's homemakers from the drudgery of the kitchen. The Duncan Hines brand revolutionized the entire food industry and was one of the first franchises in America.
When Proctor & Gamble purchased the company in 1956, Park could have comfortably retired. Instead, he began a second career in communications. Starting in 1962, with H. E. Babcock's son (a communications executive) as his point man, Park Communications acquired or built 22 radio stations, 11 television stations, and 144 publications, 41 of them daily newspapers in 24 states. At the time of Park's death, Park Communications generated more than $160 million in annual revenues, and his media properties reached nearly one-fourth of all American households.
Park's influence was felt across the nation. In addition to leading a number of charitable causes, he worked closely with the North Carolina Commission on Literacy and the North Carolina State University Development Council, where his efforts helped propel the institution into the Top Ten for corporate support. Park was originator of the New York State Publishers Foundation, which supports programs for newspapers in education, literacy, and journalism. He was also instrumental in the growth of Ithaca College, serving as President of the Board of Trustees for many years. The Park School of Communications was named after him.
The senior Park's association with Cornell goes back to the launch of his Duncan Hines foods enterprise in the 1950's, researching American eating habits through Cornell expertise and laboratories to perfect his food products. In the 1960's, he served on the Advisory Council for the NYS College of Agriculture and the Agricultural Experiment Stations at Cornell, and from 1971 through 1972, he co-sponsored seminars in Cornell's Department of Communication Arts through his company.
In 1977, Park was named a member of the Advisory Council of Johnson and also an honorary member of the marketing fraternity at Cornell. And in 1983 he helped to create the Lewis H. Durland Memorial Lecture Series bringing prominent business speakers to the campus in honor of his friend, the former treasurer of Cornell University.
A substantial amount of the proceeds from the sale of Park Communications after his death in 1993 went to fund Park Foundation, Inc. The Foundation is dedicated to education, public broadcasting, environment and other selected interests.
In February 2003, trustees of the Park Foundation announced the formation of a second family Foundation, Triad Foundation, Inc. The trustees explained that the new structure would allow the two foundations to pursue the philanthropic objectives that best reflected the diverse interests of their respective boards.
The original Park Foundation was formed in the 1960's, Park said, adding that "Triad will base its grantmaking on the interests my father and mother expressed during the nearly 30 years they served together on the Park Foundation board."
Serving as directors and officers of Triad Foundation, Inc. are Roy H. Park, Jr, and his children Roy H. Park, III and Elizabeth Park Fowler. "Therefore the name 'Triad,'" Park said, "which is defined as a 'union or a group of three, especially of three closely related persons, beings or things.' Our pyramid logo transected into three parts by the 'T' represents our three families and the three parts of the country in which we reside," he said.
In June 2003, the directors of Triad Foundation, Inc. announced that the Triad Foundation had assumed full responsibility for the Park Leadership Fellows Program at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University and had re-named the fellowships the "Roy H. Park Leadership Fellowships."
"The new name reflects the desire of the Triad directors to honor the legacy of my father, Roy H. Park," explained Roy H. Park, Jr. president and chairman of the Triad Foundation. He noted that there will be no change in the management of the fellowship program, which since 1997 has provided over $12 million to support tuition, stipends and enrichment opportunities for nearly 170 students.
Roy H. Park, Jr. has continued his father's involvement with Cornell University. A graduate of Johnson, Park has served as a member of its Advisory Council since 1996 and as a trustee of Cornell University since 1999. Park is president and CEO of Park Outdoor Advertising of New York, Inc., headquartered in Ithaca.
In addition to Johnson fellowships, Triad has assumed full responsibility for the graduate fellowships at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Those fellowships have also been re-named the "Roy H. Park Fellowships."
Triad will also continue Roy H. Park's support for the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, specifically for plant research with strong promise for improvements in human health and medicine. "My father became a director of this private research laboratory in 1984, and remained so until he passed away," said Roy H. Park, Jr., who currently serves as vice-chairman of the Institute.
The Triad Foundation will also focus on early childhood and elementary education programs, on marine and tropical ecology, on selected scientific research and on human service, youth and other community-based programs in the communities in which its directors reside.