Memorial service for Joy Sparks set Feb. 23
Joy Sparks
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2:04 p.m., Feb. 19, 2009----A memorial service to celebrate the life of Joy Sparks will be held at 3 p.m., Monday, Feb. 23, in Clayton Hall on the University of Delaware's Laird Campus. Ms. Sparks, the state 4-H coordinator for the University's Cooperative Extension Service, died Feb. 17, at her home in Newark.

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Members of her family will be available to greet guests beginning at 1 p.m., and a reception will be held after the service. Interment will be private.

A lifelong Delawarean, Ms. Sparks began her involvement in 4-H as a young child, winning many state and national honors, including a National 4-H Achievement Award and numerous blue ribbons at the Delaware State Fair.

A 1973 UD graduate with a degree in home economics, she began her 35-year career in UD's Cooperative Extension Service by first serving as the New Castle County 4-H agent. In 1980, she was promoted to area 4-H agent, and in 1993, she became the state leader for 4-H.

Ms. Sparks was instrumental in building the Delaware 4-H program into a national powerhouse. Her efforts resulted in the hiring of additional staff and the acquisition of significant state and federal funding. Last year, Delaware 4-H reached nearly 70,000 young people, which represents more than 47 percent of the market share of eligible youth in Delaware -- more than twice the percentage of any other state.

"Joy Sparks excelled at representing the very core of University outreach," said Robin Morgan, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. "Time and time again, she bridged 4-H youth and leaders with University faculty and specialists in agriculture, natural resources, family and consumer sciences, and health and nursing sciences. Joy Sparks made Delaware 4-H a nationwide model."

Jan Seitz, associate dean and director of UD Cooperative Extension, said that Ms. Sparks helped convince her to come to UD in 2003. “Prior to coming to UD, I was assistant dean and director of University of Illinois Extension 4-H Youth Development and knew Joy Sparks as a valued 4-H colleague and a friend,” said Seitz. “Well, Joy was always talking up UD and when the Extension director position became available, she encouraged me to apply. It's been the best move I ever made. As director, I've been fortunate to have strong program leaders throughout UD Extension but before I even got here I knew 4-H was in good hands,” said Seitz. “Joy was an extraordinary leader whose creativity, energy, enthusiasm and work ethic have resulted in DE 4-H being the envy of the nation. While her 'Joy' will be missed more than words can say, we know her influence will live on in all of us due to her extraordinary leadership, enthusiasm and friendship to all.”

“Joy brought wisdom and quiet, powerful leadership to our national 4-H movement,” said Donald T. Floyd Jr., president and CEO of the National 4-H Council. “She understood that 4-H is fundamentally a club and community run organization and her servant leadership strengthened all of us.”

Among her many honors are the "Perpetual Lighthouse Award," the highest award that a UD Cooperative Extension employee can receive. In 2002, she received the first Jim Baker Memorial Award for service to Delaware 4-H, and in 2004, she was honored as the first recipient of the University of Delaware's Ratledge Family Award for Delaware Public Service. Recently, she received a "Distinguished Service to Ag" award from the New Castle County Farm Bureau.

Survivors include her husband, Donald L. Sparks, the S. Hallock du Pont Chair in the University's Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Contributions in Ms. Sparks' honor may be made to the Joy G. Sparks Memorial Fund, Delaware 4-H Foundation, 113 Townsend Hall, 531 South College Ave., Newark, DE 19716 or to the Joy G. Sparks Scholarship, Director of Development, University of Delaware, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, 531 South College Ave., 113 Townsend Hall, Newark, DE 19716-2170.

To visit an online tribute to Joy Sparks, click here.