After devoting more than 41 years of her life to children in Pettis County, Kay Sparks will soon take a different path in some respects.
Sparks, who taught for 31 years in both La Monte and The Sedalia School District 200 and who most recently spent 10 years as the MU Extension Youth Specialist for Pettis and Benton Counties is retiring.
She will still be spending much of her time with children, only now it will be caring for her two grandsons as she moves into the next phase of her life.
“I have been involved with kids all of my life,” Sparks said. “”Ever since I married, my family, the children and farming have been so important to me.
“I was a city girl and a military brat,” Sparks added. “But once I married my husband (Gordon Sparks) I became a farm girl and found my perfect fit.”
Sparks said that her family and the extended family she has developed through her years will always be her top priority.
“I think there is something special about 4-H kids,” Sparks said. “I think there is a certain way of life that comes as a member.
“Although there is a part of 4-H that involves competition that’s not really what we teach the children,” Sparks added. “Our goal is for the kids to always strive to do better this time than what you did at the last event; it’s really about what did you learn and what are you giving back to others.”
The 4-H program gives students a start and support according to Sparks but what the organization hopes to promote and develop is a sense of responsibility in the child.
“What our world (4-H) does is give them the help and advice that they need to get started but from there they have to work for what they achieve,” Sparks commented. “ Once they have that start is all it takes for them to take pride in their efforts.
“One thing is I never asked my kids was to do something that I was not willing to do myself,” Sparks added. “I may not know all the answers but I do know how to ask and I was always willing to do that to help them.”
Asking for help is difficult for Sparks to do in her personal life but it something she is learning.
“I can’t do everything that I used to do,” Sparks said quietly. “So I’m learning to ask for help from others.
“I still love every minute of what I do because there is always something new every day, whether that is a challenge as well as the “aha” moments that the job brings, but I always said I would know when it was time to step away from all of this.”
Sparks feels she has seen the experiences of generations of 4-H kids through her time with the program and her years in education.
She is now helping her third generation of area youth through 4-H.
“I have been blessed and fortunate to have wonderful families that I have worked with and wonderful people in the office,” Sparks said. “There are so many people who have volunteered and helped the kids become such responsible adults.
“I have had the love and support of my family as well and that has meant everything because I have had to be gone from them a lot working with 4-H,” she added. “You can’t put a price on family, and now it’s time to be there for them.
Sparks said she wants to help her son, who recently moved to a house on the family’s farm in La Monte as well as her daughter who will be returning to college to pursue her doctorate while working as a physical therapist and her grandsons.
“Eli just turned five and he will soon be showing calves in Clover Kids,” Sparks said. “It’s going to be grandma’s job to take him and his little brother Samuel to his meetings and shows.
“I’m going to spend time with my husband on the farm that has been in his family for 156 years,” she added proudly. “I’m looking forward to our annual date night at the Fair; we will be married 41 years on August 15 and we always have dinner together there on our anniversary and I want to take more time to spend with him.”
Although her official retirement date is December 6, Sparks said her last day in office will be September 30.
“I’m not going to completely walk away from this just yet,” Sparks said. “ I plan to be on the Pettis County Junior Livestock Committee and I’ll be at events with my grandchildren.
“I have great memories of my time with the extension and my 4-H families,” she added. “The combination of promoting farming and the values of that life to young people has been a perfect fit for me and will remain so always.”