May 16, 2021

Pages 4525-4528
Whole Number 171

Charter Member and Benefactor of the Sparks Family Association


Although our editorial policy for The Sparks Quarterly provides that we limit our coverage to Sparkses who were born prior to about 1900, we occasionally make an exception in order to introduce to our readers one of our charter members, or one who has provided unusually generous support to the Association.Robert W. Sparks, IV of Richmond, Virginia 23233-3405, qualifies for this distinction on both counts.

To each of our members during the forty-two-plus years of the Association's existence, we have assigned a sequential number, the latest being 3536. The number assigned to Robert W. Sparks, IV in 1953 was 92. Our annual financial reports listing the names of our sustaining members have regularly included him at or near the top among our most generous donors.

Robert W. Sparks, IV, as his name suggests, is a great-grandson of Robert W. Sparks, I, who was born September 15, 1810, and died on February 13, 1840. (The "W" in these four generations stands for Walker.)

A record of the family of the first Robert Walker Sparks appeared on page 853 of the December 1964 issue of the Quarterly, No. 48. This record appeared as part of an article entitled " Henry Sparks (1773-1860) of Madison County, Virginia, His Ancestors and Descendants." Henry Sparks, whose donation of provisions to the American Army during the Revolutionary War qualifies his descendants to join the DAR and the SAR, was the father of Robert W. Sparks, I and thus the great-great-grandfather of our honoree, Robert W. Sparks, IV. In an earlier article appearing in the Quarterly of June 1956, No. 14, pp. 129-147, we published a record of the first three generations of this branch of the Sparks family, going back to John and Mary Sparks of Caroline County, Virginia. John Sparks, who had been born ca. 1690, was the 5th-great-grandfather of Robert W. Sparks, IV.

Robert W. Sparks, IV was born March 12, 1920, being the eldest son of Robert W., Ill and Caroline Adelaide (Bullock) Sparks. We even know the exact time and place of his arrival in this world-it was at 3:30 A.M. on Peliso Ave., Orange, Virginia. If weight at birth is a significant factor in predict- ing a boy's success, Robert's weight of twelve pounds and eight ounces was a good omen.

Sparks was educated at the elementary and high school levels in Orange, Virginia, and he was graduated on June 6, 1937, even though he had been "grounded" the month before "for pulling a girl's hair-Dad stood for no foolishness." Four years later, he was awarded the B.S. degree by the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. This was followed by two months of high school teaching before he was enrolled in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant on November 15, 1941, three weeks before Pearl Harbor.

Space does not permit our telling in detail of Sparks's service in World War II, but when his fellow officers gave him a party on his 24th birthday, it was in England, and by June 1, 1944, he was in the Staging Area at Southampton awaiting orders for the invasion of France. On the evening of June 6, a "Liberty Ship" named the Belva Lockwood transported him and his unit to just off Omaha Beach. "We were Fifth Tier, and did not land until midnight June llth. Pitch black dark ... we heard a lot, saw little ... bad weather ... sick ... I wanted to die, but not from a German 88 ... all needed a bath."

Now holding the rank of captain. Sparks was in combat for ten and one-half months before an injury sent him to a hospital in England and then to the George Washington Hospital in New York City. He has summarized his combat experience as follows:

Injured - Convoy Commander - 69th Ranger Bn. - A mean lot - one hundred miles behind the German lines on a recon mission - in depth - turned down the Purple Heart -- A new driver. Dale Mason from Arizona, replacement, did not know my signals - Slipped while mounting the moving Command & Recon Vehicle, caught my right foot between the battery case and the fender, snapping it like a tooth pick. And, too, my gear got hung up and Mason "keel hauled" me a fair piece before someone stopped him. This fractured my left foot and shoulder.

Following treatment at the New York General Hospital, Sparks remembers his journey by train to an Orthopedic Hospital (Finny General) at Thomasville, Georgia. "We passed through Orange to Atlanta, but the train didn't stop- I cried silently when the troop-hospital train slowed down as it passed through the place of my birth. And Mr. Lonergan and Mr. H. B. Sedwick, Sr. were on duty. My wave to them brought no response of recognition."

A photograph of Captain Robert W. Sparks, IV survives that was taken on December 16, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge prior to his serious injury. We are pleased to reproduce this on the following page.

Returning to civilian life in 1945, Sparks commenced graduate study under the "G.I. Bill" at his alma mater, V.P.I,, in vocational education, while also teaching in a local high school. On December 27, 1947, he married Elise Moomaw. He completed his thesis and was graduated with merit in 1951. Even before this, however, he had been employed by the Virginia Department of Edu- cation, first to direct its Institutional On-the-Farm Training program in Central Virginia and then as assistant supervisor of Vocational Agriculture, Central Virginia.



the December 16, 1944

Further graduate study at the University of Virginia toward a doctorate in education brought a "Superintendents Certificate" to Sparks, and the post of superintendent of schools, Spotsylvania, Virginia. Later, the Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction prevailed upon him to become Program Director, title I. In this position, from 1966 until his retirement in 1979, Sparks directed the expenditure of half a billion dollars "on education of deprived children in 96 counties, 35 cities, and 8 townships throughout Virginia."

With retirement at age 60, Sparks has spent the past decade and one-half as an occasional school consultant, but he has devoted most of his time to writing and travel, as well as having "a lot of fun with four grandchildren."

Mr. and Mrs. Sparks are the proud parents of three daughters: Ruth Bowman Sparks Journell, Mary Bob Sparks Taylor, and Elise Caroline Sparks Kinter.