OBITUARY

Thomas "Wilson" Sparks

June 28, 1926November 10, 2020
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Thomas “Wilson” Sparks was born in 1926, in Saltillo, Mississippi. He was the middle child of 5 children born to his parents, Thomas Sparks and Ora Wilson. Wilson’s family grew up very poor in the Great Depression. As a very young boy, he hunted squirrel at 5 am in the morning for the family breakfast, as well as birds with his bird dog. For fun he fished, hunted, whittled, farmed, and got into mischief with his siblings! In his words, they were poor in material things, but rich in love and togetherness. He wrote a book about his life which includes his childhood adventures. What a character he was!

At 17 years old, he was drafted into the Army before finishing high school. He married Frances “Carlene” Lowrey, his high school sweetheart, then shipped out to the WWII Pacific Theater in Okinawa from 1944-1946. In addition to WWII, Wilson also served in Korea as part of the occupation. Up to that point, he had never even been on a bus.

After returning home from WWII, he and his wife worked. As his father was the principal of the schools he attended when he was growing up, Wilson valued education, and wished to attend college at Mississippi State. Since he did not graduate from high school, he received “special permission” by the dean to attend college. Wilson had dyslexia, so school was hard, however he was determined and persevered. He received his bachelor’s degree from Mississippi State in Dairy Husbandry. He then obtained his dream job in Bartow, Florida, managing a dairy ranch for J. K. Stuart. He and Carlene moved there to live in 1950.

In 1951, Wilson and Carlene had one son, Tommy, who died at 2 months of age. They had multiple miscarriages, and Carlene was quite depressed. Wilson decided they would have to leave the ranch for Carlene to get over her depression. They moved to Gainesville, Florida, where Wilson accepted a position as an associate professor in Dairy Science at the University of Florida.

In 1954, they adopted Donald Wilson Sparks at 4 months of age, and in 1956 they adopted Tina Louise Sparks at 2 months of age. Their family was complete. While at the University of Florida, Wilson obtained his master’s degree in Agriculture. His job as a dairy specialist extension agent with the University required frequent traveling over the state, and Wilson wanted to be home more with his family. This led him to an important career change by becoming the Assistant Manager of the Florida State Fair in Tampa in the 1960’s. As his strong work ethic and decision making skills in the fair business were noticed, he accepted a position as the General Manager of a 7-state fair called the Mid-South Fair in Memphis, Tennessee. He worked there for 14 years, and became the Executive VP and Director of that fair. He orchestrated the building of Libertyland in 1976 (a bicentennial theme park) on the Mid-South Fair grounds, and even entertained Elvis Presley and his entourage in that park. He and Carlene met many famous people during those years (people and acts that were contracted to perform at the fair). He worked long hard hours, but it was a magical life in many respects.

In 1980, he had the opportunity to move back to Florida and manage the Florida State Fair in Tampa. He and Carlene wanted to retire in Florida, so this was a great opportunity. Next, he served as the Executive Vice President of the IAFE (International Association of Fairs and Expositions), and was inducted into the IAFE Hall of Fame for Fair Managers in 1985. In 1986, he was offered the position of Executive Director of the Georgia National Fair, a sprawling 628 acre $25 million-dollar agricultural showplace that he built and managed in Perry, Georgia. After he retired from the Georgia National Fair, he continued to consult with fair managers well into his 80’s, including the Louisiana State Fair and Volusia County Fair to name a few. In the words of people that worked with him, he was a legend in the fair business.

He loved fishing, gardening (vegetables in a big way), landscaping, oil painting, and traveling. He loved his family deeply, and was a great counselor and a good friend to many. He was a stern decision maker, but was such a cut up, and really knew how to have fun! He was truly one of a kind. When Carlene passed away at 87 years old, they had been married 68 years. A lifetime of commitment! Their entire family was so blessed to have them as an example! Wilson always said, “If I had to live my life over again, I would change very little.”

Wilson died November 10, 2020 at 94 years old. He is predeceased by his wife Carlene and their son Tommy; his parents, Thomas and Ora Sparks; his siblings Vernon (Evelyn) Sparks, Eloise (G.E.) Morrow, Jerry (Carolyn) Sparks, Margarette (James) Rider; and son-in-law Donald McFarland. He is survived by his 2 children, Don (Elaine) Sparks and Tina Sparks McFarland. His 6 grandchildren include Christie Sparks, Michael (Lynn) Sparks, Beau Weaver, David (Tracy) Weaver, Jeff (Flora) McFarland, and Rachael Yenque. He has 9 grandchildren: Tyler, Caleigh, Gracie, Laura Mae, Brianna, Sophia, Bradley, Kaia, and Liam. He loved them all!

A celebration of life service will be held at 2pm on Sunday, November 29, 2020. The service will also be available on YouTube upon personal request. Please private message Don, Tina or Dennis Lee for the link. Baldwin Fairchild Funeral Home 501 E Mitchell Hammock Road Oviedo, FL 32765

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to: The Children’s Home Society of Florida 482 Keller Road Orlando, FL 32810

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Thomas "Wilson" Sparks

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Don Sparks

November 27, 2020

Caleigh Irby

November 23, 2020

Suzie & Tommy Brown

November 16, 2020

I just loved Wilson, when I would come into church I always went over to hug him and he insisted on standing up to hug me. He told me his momma taught him that you stand up to great a lady. He was such a sweetheart and he LOVED his family.

Leah Morrison

November 15, 2020

R and I didn’t have the privilege of knowing your father or mother for very long but he always had a smile on his face and when he was with your mom it was so evident of the love they had for one another. What a legacy he’s left his family!

James Brubaker

November 14, 2020

James Brubaker

November 14, 2020

James Brubaker

November 14, 2020

FROM THE FAMILY

On the Reithoffer carousel at the Georgia National Fairgrounds

FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY

On the Reithoffer carousel at the Georgia National Fairgrounds

FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY

Stetsons all around

FROM THE FAMILY
FROM THE FAMILY

Dad always said you could tell a lot about a man by his handshake!

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