April 24, 2021

Pages 4514-4518
Whole Number 171 FRANK HUGH SPARKS (1891-1964)

by Paul E. Sparks

(Editor's Note: For a considerable period of time, we have wanted to publish an account of the life of Frank Hugh Sparks, a capitalist, educator, and college president in Indiana. His story could well fit into a book written by Horatio Alger. Such a book would include his humble beginnings, his energetic ambition, his financial success, and his ultimate desire to be recognized as an educated man.

(Our apparent procrastination in honoring this man was caused by our inability to find his Sparks lineage. He, himself, acknowledged that he did not know the name of his paternal grandfather, and for this reason, we were unable to make any progress on tracing his Sparks ancestry. Recent research by our President, Dr. Paul E. Sparks, however, has been most productive, and we are now able to place him on a proper branch of the Sparks family tree. We here share his life with our readers.) Frank Hugh Sparks was born January 11, 1891, in Grant County, Indiana. He was a son (and seventh child) of John and Jennie Lilly (Ryan) Sparks and a grandson of 27.2.2 Joshua and Sarah (MNU) Sparks. Joshua Sparks was born ca. 1798, probably in Laurens County, South Carolina, and was a son of 27.2 William and Mary (Palmer) Sparks. (See pp. 576-579 of the September 1961 issue of The Sparks Quarterly, No. 35.)

27.2.2 Joshua Sparks was a teen-aged lad when he accompanied his parents from South Carolina to Indiana in 1812, and it was there that he married Rachel McCray on April 9, 1818, in Franklin County. She had been born ca. 1795 and was a daughter of Phineas and Sarah Jane (Peters) McCray. Joshua and Rachel began housekeeping in Fayette County, Indiana, and were enumerated there when the 1820 census was taken, but by 1830 they were in Rush County where they were enumerated on that census. by this time, they had two children, a daughter born 1820-25 and a son born 1825-30.

On October 31, 1823, William and Mary Sparks of Fayette County, Indiana, gave a 160-acre tract of land in Bartholomew County, Indiana, to Joshua Sparks. The deed stated that he was "of Bartholomew County." 27.2 William Sparks had entered the land in 1820. On February 1, 1832, Joshua and Rachel Sparks of Rush County, Indiana, sold 160 acres of land in Bartholomew County to Joseph Chambers for $400.

[Joshua Sparks, son of William and Mary (Palmer) Sparks, is sometimes confused with 18.3.1 Joshua Low Sparks, son of 18.3 Elijah and Annie (Anderson) Sparks of Baltimore County, Maryland. Joshua Low Sparks was born ca. 1796 in Maryland and went to Franklin County, Indiana, where he was enumerated on the 1820 to 1850 census. See pages 4518-4520 of this issue of the Quarterly for further information about Joshua Low Sparks.]

Rachel (McCray) Sparks died sometime prior to 1847, and Joshua Sparks married (second) Mrs. Sarah Cross on September 23, 1847, in Rush County. She had been born ca. 1805 in Pennsylvania and was the widow of James Cross. She had at least four children by her marriage to Cross, ranging in age from six years to fifteen years at the time she married Joshua Sparks.

It seems likely that soon after his second marriage, Joshua Sparks became seriously ill, and on October 12, 1848, he made his will. He died probably in the early spring of 1850, and his will was probated in the Rush County Court on May 27, 1850. Major provisions in the will included the following items:

(Significant items from the will of Joshua Sparks:)

Item 1. He bequeathed $400 to each of his two daughters, Sarah Newhouse and b.

Item 2: He bequeathed $400 to his son, Phineas Sparks.

Item 3: He bequeathed the 147-acre farm on which he lived to his wife, Sarah Sparks, for her lifetime.

Item 4: He made provision for an unborn heir to receive two years of schooling.

Item 5: At the death of his wife, and when the youngest heir was "of age," the farm was to be sold and $500 was to be paid to the heirs of James Cross as their share of their mother's one-third of the farm.

Item 6: He named John Sparks and Hiram Sparks as his executors.

Although no other children were mentioned in Joshua's will, it seems likely that the Moses Sparks who married Abigail Redding in 1838 in Rush County, and the Joshua Sparks who married Mary Nixon in 1842 in Rush County, were also sons of Joshua. John Sparks and Hiram Sparks, executors of Joshua's will, were undoubtedly his brothers.

When the 1850 census was taken of Rush County on September 10th, Sarah Sparks, 45, was shown as head of her household in Union Township. Living in the household were four Cross children: Eli Cross, 18; Jackson Cross, 15;

Polly Ann Cross 12; and James H. Cross, 9. Also living with her was John Sparks, one year old. It seems obvious that he was the "unborn heir" to whom Joshua Sparks had made reference in his will.

On December 26, 1853, Sarah Sparks, widow of Joshua, married Hiram Kendall in Rush County. He had been born ca. 1801 in Kentucky, and he, like Sarah, was also widowed and had several children in his household. by the time the 1860 census was taken, he and Sarah had moved northward about one hundred miles to Wabash County where they had settled in Liberty Township.

John Sparks, son of Joshua, did not accompany his mother and stepfather to Wabash County; apparently he continued to live in Rush County. He may have been the twelve-year-old Albert Sparks who was living in the household of Hiram and Elizabeth Sparks in neighboring Fayette County when the 1860 census was taken. Other members of Hiram Sparks's household on that census were:

William Sparks, 88, father of Hiram, and Francis M. Sparks, 17, nephew of Hiram who was a son of 27.2.6 Stephen and Assenith (Greene) Sparks.

(Apparently there were two Albert Sparkses in this section of Indiana who were born ca. the same time. One was the Albert Sparks, mentioned above. The other was Albert Leroy Sparks, who was born ca. 1847 and was a son of Joshua Low Sparks.)

At the February 1861 term of the Rush County Court, John Sparks was made a ward of his uncle, John Sparks, who made a final settlement of his ward's share of his father's estate shortly afterwards. John Sparks, uncle of the younger John Sparks, died on March 8, 1863, in Wabash County, Indiana. When the 1870 census was taken, John Sparks, now aged 21, and his mother, Sarah (MNU) Sparks Cross Kendall, were back together and were living in Wayne Township in Huntington County, Indiana. Sarah was shown on the 1870 census as 65 years old and a native of Pennsylvania. Wayne Township in Huntington County adjoins Liberty Township in Wabash County.

John Sparks married Jennie Lilly Ryan ca. 1875, probably in Huntington County, and when the 1880 census was taken, they were still in Wayne Township. John was shown as 30 years old; Jennie was 21 years old and a native of Ohio. With them was a five-months-old daughter, Luella Sparks. Also living in the household was John's mother, Sarah Kendall (copied as "Rindle"), aged 75 years and a native of Pennsylvania.

The last record we have found of the family of John and Jennie (Ryan) Sparks is in the 1900 census of Grant County, Indiana. According to that census, the family consisted of the following:

          Born Age  
Sparks John White Male Head November 1848 51 IN
" Jennie White Female Wife February 1859 41 OH
" Ira C. White Male Son December 1886 12 IN
" Frank H. White Male Son January 1891 9 IN

Without doubt, the youngest child in the family next above is Frank Hugh Sparks, subject of this article. Little wonder that he was unable to name his grandfather Sparks. His grandfather Sparks (Joshua Sparks) had died over forty years before Frank was born! We now present a story of the life of Frank Hugh Sparks.

The story of the life of Frank Hugh Sparks can be told in three parts: (1) his boyhood and youth; (2) his success as an industrialist; and (3) his attaining his lifelong ambition to become a college president.

The first part of the story of the life of Frank Hugh Sparks is about his boyhood on a small farm near Lake Maxinkuckee in southwestern Marshall County, Indiana. The lake was a popular place for summer campers, and as a boy he learned to rent boats and fishing tackle and to sell bait. He was also able to meet well-to-do men who brought their families from Midwest cities to spend the summer on the lake. Among these men was Carl Fisher, an automobile fancier and the founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He and young Sparks became good friends.

The second part of the life of Frank Sparks begins in 1910. It was in that year, while working for Fisher, that Sparks met Quentin Noblitt, and a relationship was formed that was both enduring and profitable. In 1911, he and Noblitt formed an auto, tire, and equipment company, and in 1916 they established a training school for automobile mechanics. After the end of World War I, they formed the Indianapolis Air Pump Company with capital of $3,000. The company prospered and soon grew into the Noblitt-Sparks Industries, specializing in making automobile heaters, radios, and other accessories. It soon developed into the Arvin Industries and became internationally known. by 1938, Sparks had achieved financial independence.

Frank Sparks married Edna Christina Shellhouse on November 22, 1911, and had two sons: Duane Frank Sparks and Joseph Stanley Sparks

Mrs. Sparks became chronically ill during the mid-1930s, and because of her illness. Sparks moved his family to Arizona. It was about this time that he set out to become a college president.

The third part of the life of Frank Sparks begins in 1935 when he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Butler University in Indianapolis. Two years later, he had earned a Master of Arts degree from the University of Southern California. It was in California that his wife died in the fall of 1939. He continued his study at U. S. C., and he received a Doctor of Philosophy degree from that institution on June 7, 1941. He had learned just a month earlier that he had been selected to head Wabash College at Crawfordsville, Indiana. He married Abbie Mann on June 16, 1941.


Frank Hugh Sparks was president of Wabash College for fifteen years. His appointment had come on the eve of World War II, and he soon saw the college's enrollment depleted by enlistments in the armed forces. He, himself, was called to Washington to head the War Manpower Commission's Bureau of Labor Utilization. It was through his efforts that the Navy Department awarded Wabash College a contract to train embryonic seamen, and before the end of the war, more than seven hundred students had participated in the program.

Sparks was a most capable college president. During his regime, the number of faculty members increased to an eleven-to-one student-teacher ratio; faculty salaries improved to the highest levels of Midwestern colleges; student enrollment was doubled; four new buildings were erected; and the endowment fund was doubled.

Perhaps the crowning highlight of Sparks's career as an educator was his leadership in the Council for Financial Aid to Education which he helped to establish in 1953. After he retired from the presidency of Wabash College, he served as the president of the Council from 1956 to 1963. During that time, corporate support of private colleges rose from $50 million to $250 million.

Frank Hugh Sparks was reared in the Baptist faith, but after his second marriage he became a Christian Scientist. He died on December 30, 1964, in New York City.