‘Com­pletely mes­mer­ized’

Val­ley na­tive Mona Par­sons re­mem­bered dur­ing Her­itage Day


The lit­tle-known story of an un­likely war hero was cer­tainly told lead­ing up to Her­itage Day.

Ev­ery seat in the 124-seat au­di­to­rium at the Irv­ing Cen­tre at Aca­dia Univer­sity was oc­cu­pied Feb. 17 when bi­og­ra­pher An­dria Hill-lehr spoke about Mona Par­sons, this year’s Her­itage Day honoree.

Par­sons was born in Mid­dle­ton in 1901, and at the age of 10, moved to Wolfville. Her life took her around the world - af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Aca­dia Ladies’ Sem­i­nary, Par­sons headed off to New York, where she earned her a spot as one of the Ziegfeld Fol­lies.

A few years later, she was in­tro­duced to Willem Leon­hardt, the Dutch mil­lion­aire she would later marry. The cou­ple moved to Hol­land and, for two years, en­joyed a jet-set life­style of par­ties, va­ca­tions and lux­ury.

On her sec­ond wed­ding an­niver­sary, the Ger­mans in­vaded Poland, and Par­sons stood up for what she be­lieved was right Par­sons and her hus­band qui­etly joined the Dutch Re­sis­tance, help­ing al­lied air­man evade cap­ture in a se­cret closet hid­ing spot be­hind Par­sons’ shoes.

Par­sons was even­tu­ally taken into cus­tody and sen­tenced to death, but her dig­nity in fac­ing the tri­bunal cur­ried favour and her life was spared. She was sen­tenced to life in a labour camp, where she resided for four years, even­tu­ally es­cap­ing when the labour camp was bombed.

‘Not will­ing to com­pro­mise’

Provin­cial cul­ture and her­itage min­is­ter Leo Glavine ex­plained how Her­itage Day is rec­og­niz­ing, hon­our­ing and bring­ing back to life peo­ple who made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to our prov­ince, like that of Par­sons.

He spoke of Par­sons’ “willpower and ded­i­ca­tion to mak­ing life bet­ter for other hu­man be­ings, for the com­mon good. She was one of those peo­ple whose lives can be threat­ened, but they are not will­ing to com­pro­mise who they are. She could have left (the Nether­lands) be­fore WWII started, but she didn’t.”

Glavine paid trib­ute to Hil­llehr as well, say­ing her dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion to share the story of Par­sons’ hero­ism is “al­low­ing us to cel­e­brate Mona’s life a lot more.” See COM­PLETELY, A3

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