Alta Van Parys

Alta Van Parys, a long-time resident of Reno, NV, passed away on February 3, 2022 at the age of 74.

Born the youngest of 4 daughters, Alta Harriett Walker came into the world on May 8, 1947. She was the first baby born at the new Martinsville General Hospital in Martinsville, VA to Robert Jackson Walker and Dorothy Elizabeth Walker (née Taylor). Alta grew up on the Martinsville family farm outside Rocky Mount, VA where her father grew tobacco and timber – and when money was scarce he dabbled in moonshine, a fact of which Alta was proud: She often said her daddy did whatever he could to provide for his family and that her college education was paid for with tobacco and moonshine! Alta was proud to be a Virginian and loved her life on the farm where she developed a life-long love for animals.

After graduating from high school Alta decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a teacher. She received her Bachelor’s degree and then her Master’s degree in English and Education from James Madison College (now University). Upon graduation, Alta taught at a middle school in Alexandria, VA for a year. Wanting to add some adventure to her life, she walked into the Pentagon and applied for a teaching position with the Department of Defense. She was hired and sent to Zweibrücken AFB in Germany where she taught high school English for 8 years. While living in Germany she was able to visit several countries in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East and had many great escapades. She rode a camel to the Great Pyramid of Giza. She cruised around London in a double decker bus. She went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and she met Pope John XXIII while visiting the Vatican.

Upon her return to the U.S., Alta worked at a bank and did some substitute teaching in both Sacramento, CA and Reno, NV where she settled in 1979. Alta hired on at Fernley High School in 1982 where she taught English classes for the next 23 years. As a teacher Alta embodied the spirit of poet Robert Frost: “Watch me notice a few things in the next few months; let’s see you notice a few things too.” The number of thank you notes, cards, and book dedications to “Ms. Van Parys” from former students would suggest that she led more than a few young people to “notice things.” She often remarked at how blessed she was to have such wonderful students.

After retirement, Alta travelled to Virginia several times and she and her partner Jerry did some sight-seeing travel by train throughout the Western United States. Together they enjoyed entertaining friends, whale-watching trips on the west coast, and regular games of golf – where Alta might be found sipping cocktails in the golf cart and providing commentary on Jerry’s game as often as she joined the game herself. In either case everyone knew there would be a fun round of golf when Alta showed up!

Alta lived with Multiple Sclerosis for 35 years and for most of that time did not let it slow her down or prevent her from teaching. Right to the end, even as the MS took its toll on most aspects of Alta’s daily life, she always had a smile on her face. Alta died peacefully at her home in the early hours of February 3, 2022 surrounded by loved ones. She was preceded in death by her parents, her sister Virginia Dawn Walker, and her sister Rebecca Walker Taylor. She is survived by her sister Shirley Walker and her Life Partner of 40 years, Jerry Cowen.

Alta will be interred next to her mother and father in Martinsville, VA at a small ceremony with family members.

3 thoughts on “Alta Van Parys

  • Gladys Suarez

    Rest In Peace. A person to remember. A great colleague. I will always have a special place in my heart for her. She taught my daughter Jennifer how to be a great writer.

  • Jack & Nancy Cook

    She was one very special lady. Her sense of humor was preciously unique. She was an amazing teacher. We are thankful to have known her and will continue to enjoy our special memories of Alta.

  • Deena Reed

    Ms. Van Parys was an amazing teacher. She taught me to love mythology. She was intelligent, kind and carried herself in such a respectable way. She had a great impact on many people. Rest in Peace


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