Whole Number 186
by Russell E. Bidlack
With the issue of The Sparks Quarterly for March 1999, your editor sent a brief memo to the members of the Association reporting the death of our President, Dr. Paul E. Sparks, on March 4, 1999. [Those of you who noted the strange date on that memo, ("October 20, 1999") were no more puzzled than was your editor himself when it was called to my attention after the mailing had been completed. I simply have no explanation for why I typed "Oct" when I intended to type March. 3
It was in 1953 that three relatively young men, who had been corresponding regarding our shared interest in a Sparks family of Maryland and North Carolina, decided to found THE SPARKS FAMILY ASSOCIATION and to publish "a small quarterly sheet devoted to family history and genealogy." Those "three relatively young men" were Paul E. Sparks, age 43; William P. Johnson, age 35; and myself, age 33. My own interest in the Sparks family stemmed from the fact that Sparks was the maiden name of my wife, Melva Helen Sparks. We had been married while I was in the U.S. Army on June 13, 1942. (Melva died on April 19, 1993.) Paul's interest in genealogy had grown out of his close personal relationship with his grandfather, Colby Sparks, who died on June 3, 1951, at the age of 93. Colby had loved to reminisce about his forefathers and pioneer times in Kentucky and, with his passing, Paul had begun genealogical research to add to the store of family lore that he had heard his grandfather recite. William P. Johnson, who had launched a professional career in genealogical research for other people, descended from a branch of the same Sparks line as did Paul.
It was in the first issue of The Sparks Quarterly, March 1953, mailed to prospective members, that we announced our proposal. We stated: "Since the three officers and founders of The Sparks Family Association were born between 1910 and 1920, they look forward to at least half a century of activity in the Association." Although the Quarterly is now in its 47th year of publication, we were too optimistic regarding our life spans. It was my sad duty in the December 1980 issue to announce the untimely death of William Perry Johnson, and now, in 1999, that of Paul. I alone of the founders am left to fulfill our 1953 promise.
My acquaintanceship with Paul began early in 1952, through correspondence. The Rev. Bailey F. Davis of Franklin, Kentucky, had placed a query in a magazine called Genealogy and History regarding his wife's Sparks ancestry. I had written to him, and in his reply dated December 19, 1951, Mr. Davis had noted: "I was in the Filson Club [a genealogical and historical library in Louisville] recently and a man came in and took a chair at my table. Soon I heard him discussing with the librarian on the Sparks family, so I 'nosed in'." Mr. Davis went on to say that this man was interested primarily in the Sparkses of Lawrence County, Kentucky. "He had his line sketched on brown paper and I glanced at it. His name and address is Paul Sparks, 155 North Hite, Louisville 6, KY." I wrote to Paul, and thus began a correspondence that continued for close to half a century. With our constant exchange of letters and information, it is not surprising that we added personal data regarding families and daily activities. We became close friends. I cannot recall our ever having a disagreement regarding the contents of the Quarterly nor the managing of the Association's business. We shared both the compliments and criticisms from the members, and I rarely received a letter from Paul that lacked a smiling face, or a frowning one on occasion. In our nearly half-century of communication with each other, we only met on two brief occasions, but with Paul's death, I feel that I have lost my best friend. He was both wise and learned, possessing a keen sense of humor and a forgiving nature; he was truly a kind and gentle man.
As members of the Association are well aware, Paul has written many of the articles appearing in Quarterly over the years, and he has assisted scores of Sparks descendants in their research, especially those with a Kentucky connection. He completed his last article in February for the March 1999 issue. He was too weak to do his usual proofreading, however, after I had typed it.
It had been apparent in recent weeks that Paul was "slowing down." He had mentioned in a January letter his concern about renewing his driver's license at age 89, and he complained that his memory was not as keen as it once had been. Since his death I have learned from his oldest grandson, Robert L. Sparks, that he had been experiencing a shortness of breath that concerned his doctor. His beloved wife of 65 years, Mary Sue (Miller) Sparks, had fallen a number of times in recent years, and she had become confined to a wheelchair. Paul's gentle care for Sue, as he always called her, enabled them to remain in their home with the help of their son. In late February, however, Paul fell, breaking a shoulder and, becsuse of his heart condition, he entered a local hospital. Shortly thereafter, Sue fell from her wheelchair, and, in a coma, was taken to the same hospital. In my last brief telephope conversation with Paul in his hospital room, his only words were, "Oh Russell, we nearly lost Sue last night." Paul died on March 4th and Sue followed him in death on the following day. Their wish that they might "go together" was fulfilled.
In reporting Paul and Sue's deaths, Philip Glamann of the Louisville Courier Journal noted that:
...both started their careers at Louisville elementary schools and retired in 1973, two years before the merger of the Louisville and Jefferson County school systems. Paul Sparks left as chairman of business affairs for the city school system, and Mary Sparks retired as a teacher at Breckinridge Elementary School. Both served local schools nearly 40 years.
"They loved working with kids," said their son, Robert Sparks."It seems like I was always in school, whether I was there or not. They were always talking about school."
...Paul Sparks, a native of Yatesville, had been director of pupil personnel for the city school system and principal of three elementary schools. He was an Army Air Forces veteran of World War II and a member of the alumni associations of Morehead State University, Northwestern University and Indiana University [from which he received his doctorate in education]. They were both members of St. Marks Episcopal Church. Besides their son, they are survived by five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren . In addition, Paul Sparks is survived by two sisters, Dorothy Murphy and Eva Fields.
A letter pertaining to Paul's death addressed to the members of the Sparks Family Association from member Ruth Sparks byrne appears on page ----