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Students rally to buy beloved college counselor her first home—decades after she provided a home for everyone who didn't fit in

'There is no one more deserving, and people feel compelled to help when they hear Lyllye's story.'

Students rally to buy beloved college counselor her first home—decades after she provided a home for everyone who didn't fit in
Cover Image Source: University of Oregon

For years, Lyllye Reynolds-Parker was a safe haven of sorts for students at the University of Oregon in Eugene who felt lost and had nowhere to turn to. Struggling with mental illness, gender incongruences and things that left them feeling isolated, they all found solace with Reynolds-Parker as she made her office a refuge for students. "I call her Aunt Lyllye," said David Young to The Washington Post, who was diagnosed and treated for mental illness shortly before his freshman year at the University of Oregon. "She was the family I needed [as I learned] how to trust."


"Aunt Lyllye showed me that I can do anything," he added. "Because of her, I gradually came to believe that I could live a life free from prisons, mental institutions and even death. I am forever indebted in gratitude." Such was her lasting impact on the students—and the community as a whole—that the campus Black Cultural Center was named after her in 2019, seven years after she retired. Now her former students have gotten together to reciprocate the love she showed them by helping her realize her long-held dream: becoming a homeowner. "Lyllye's dream was to own a home before her life was over, and I knew this was something we could make happen because everybody would want to help," said David Young's sister , Mo Young, a 2002 graduate of the university.


After learning earlier this year that the beloved college counselor had tried for years to save enough for a down payment on her first home, Mo and Emily Yates—who works for the Homes for Good housing authority in Oregon—started a "Thank You, Ms. Lyllye" fundraiser on Facebook. As the community rallied for the cause, they ended up bringing in $75,000 to help Reynolds-Parker with a down payment on a house. "Somebody sent a check for $10,000, and a 7-year-old girl gave $5," said Mo. "Everyone wanted to chip in."


Yates revealed that the incredible movement to help Reynolds-Parker was ultimately enough for the 75-year-old to add to her savings and put down a large down payment on a $290,000, two-bedroom and two-bathroom home outside Eugene in November. She hopes to move in with her 79-year-old sister before Christmas. Since many are still coming forward with offers to help, a GoFundMe fundraiser has also been set up to help pay down the mortgage even further for Reynolds-Parker. "There is no one more deserving, and people feel compelled to help when they hear Lyllye's story," said Yates.


Among the many who chipped in to help the former student advisor, was Maceo Persson, who graduated in 2006 from the University of Oregon with a degree in ethnic studies. Persson, who is a transgender person, said that he was transitioning and having a difficult time with his family when he went to see Reynolds-Parker as an undergraduate student. "She took me under her wing and became my campus mom," he said. "She shared her own struggles and ultimately became the catalyst for my family accepting me for who I am. Ms. Lyllye has given so much hope and love — how could we not give back to her now?"


Parker-Reynolds explained that her determination to stand up for those in need is rooted in her deep understanding of what it was like to be on the margins. Her story goes back to 1941 when her parents, Sam and Mattie Reynolds, moved to Eugene from Shreveport, Louisiana. She was the first Black baby born in a Eugene hospital at a time when most Black women gave birth in clinics or at home with help from midwives because they were not allowed inside city hospitals. It was only thanks to her mother's doctor that Parker-Reynolds was born in a hospital in 1946.


"On my birth certificate, he wrote that my parents were White," she recalled. "Because Eugene was the Oregon seat of the Ku Klux Klan, he did it to protect the hospital and my mother." She became a hairstylist after graduating from high school in 1964, because she was told she had no chance of becoming a lawyer. "It was my dream to be the next Thurgood Marshall, but I was told it wasn't possible," Parker-Reynolds said, recalling her admiration for the civil rights leader and first Black Supreme Court associate justice. "I remember telling myself, 'Someday, if I'm ever in the position to do it, I'm going to tell every little Black girl you can be whatever you want to be." In 1986, she enrolled at the University of Oregon at age 40 and majored in sociology. Following her graduation in 1991, she returned to the campus three years later as an academic adviser with a focus on helping multicultural students.


Speaking of her dream of being a homeowner finally coming true, Parker-Reynolds said: "When Mo told me she'd like to have a fundraiser to help me buy a house, I told her I'd have to think about it, because I didn't want anybody thinking I'm out here begging for money. But then she said something that helped me to put my pride aside. Mo said, 'It's not begging, it's honoring — for all you have done. I'm overwhelmed — I never dreamed that something this big and wonderful could happen to me. My parents taught me how important it is to make a difference. It's nice to know that so many think that I did."

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