(Posted February 25, 2016)

Jack and Carolyn Sparks pose at their 375-acre farm in Bedford County
Jack and Carolyn Sparks pose at their 375-acre farm in Bedford County

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Jack and Carolyn Sparks, of Altoona, Pa., both of whom had extensive careers as educators in Blair and Bedford counties, have donated their 378-acre farm to Juniata College for use as an educational center and research site. "It was very clear that Juniata's interest and ours were in alignment. The sense of excitement we got from everyone we met was impressive," says Jack Sparks, a resident of Altoona, Pa. The farm, estimated as a $1.2 million gift, is located near Everett, Pa. in Bedford County. It has been in the Sparks family since 1810 and has been owned outright by Jack Sparks' family since 1913. "As longtime educators Jack and Carolyn recognize the advantages of experiential education and their ancestral farm offers an almost perfect field experience for a wide variety of disciplines, including environmental science, geology, chemistry, astronomy, archaeology, history and probably a few we haven't thought of yet," says James A. Troha, president of Juniata. "This generous gift gives Juniata the potential to devleop the farm into a faculty retreat facility or perhaps develop another field station and its potential clearly resonates with one of Juniata's great strengths: providing students different avenues to learn through direct and varied experience." The Sparks, both in their 80s and residents of Altoona, have made the gift of the farm and made provisions for its operation and upkeep as a way of honoring their two late sons. Scott Douglas Sparks attended Juniata and after spending his junior year abroad, he attended Westfaeliscche Wilhelm's Universitaet, in Muenster, Germany and worked as a translator. Todd Gardner Sparks attended Shenandoah University and Conservatory of Music and founded OZ International Salon. Jack Sparks, a native of Hopewell, retired in 1989 as a teacher at the Altoona Area School District, where he taught AP biology and general and academic biology. He also taught at Bedford Area High School, Windham High School in Ohio and Penn State University. Jack Sparks also had an extensive coaching career. He was head coach of wrestling and golf and was an assistant football coach in Windham Ohio, near Warren, Ohio. After coming to Blair County, he served as baseball, wrestling, golf and tennis coach at Penn State Altoona from 1964 to 1970. In 1968 he was hired as the director of the Logan Township Recreation Department, a post he held until 1990. The Sparks farm played a major role in the township's recreation programming, as Jack and Carolyn eventually converted the farm into a summer camp for Blair County children called Camp No-Dse-Wa-Ope (pronounced "know-dah-wah-opee"). Jack Sparks earned a bachelor's degree from Slippery Rock University and earned a master's degree from Penn State University. He also served in the U.S. Army in Korea during the Korean War. Carolyn Sparks is a native of Coraopolis, Pa., and taught in the Altoona Area School District until retiring in 1991. Prior to that she taught in the Bedford Area School District. She earned a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and pursued graduate studies at Penn State. Based on their experience using the farm as an educational center, the couple wanted to turn over the large farm to a college or university dedicated to continuing its use as a site for research and education. The farm had been used as a small beef cattle operation until the late 1980s. The Sparks were connected to Juniata through contacts provided by Jack Makdad, an Altoona, Pa. businessman and chief executive officer of Makdad Industrial Supply. Makdad has been a lifelong family friend of the Sparks, and graduated from Juniata in 1985. "There's a good chance we will be able to find evidence of Native Americans living there for the past 8,000 years," says Jonathan Burns, coordinator of the Juniata's Cultural Research Institute and lecturer in anthropology. "Mr. Sparks has an amazing collection of projectile points -- he has found more than 1,000 over the years -- that indicates continuous occupation, and that's just what he has found on the surface. Starting this year, Juniata will work on cataloging the Sparks arrowhead/projectile points collection in the College's Cultural Resource Center in Room B314 in Brumbaugh Academic Center. Many academic departments are looking forward to using the Sparks property. The physics department, for example, plans to use the site for astronomy research. The college's environmental science department can use the acreage for research on deer and coyotes, sustainability, biochemistry, microbiology and other projects. The gift also provides the college with access to a unique ecosystem that is markedly different from the area around Juniata's Raystown Field Station on Raystown Lake. "This creates a kind of ecological corridor connecting Raystown Lake to a truly riverine headwaters system," explains Dennis Johnson, professor of environmental science.

Contact Gabe Welsch at welschg@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.