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Hartselle's Charles Sparkman dead at 72

By Kristen Bishop 340-2443

HARTSELLE — Friends and family of former Morgan County Commissioner Charles Sparkman described him as a prankster who loved children and cared about his community.

The six-term District 2 commissioner died Friday at 72 following an eight-year battle with Alzheimer's and heart disease.

From articles covering Sparkman's 21-year career in local government and stories from family and former commissioners, it's easy to see that he had three main goals for his time in office: improve education, clean up the county and build a park at Neel.

Sparkman accomplished the last goal with the construction of West Park in 1991. The county changed the name to Charles Sparkman West Park in 1999 to honor the man who fought for funding and even got his hands dirty during the building process.

"That park was really important to him. He wanted one in every district," said Faye Sparkman, his widow. "A lot of the time, when they were building the park, he'd go down there on his days off and help. He wanted it completed, and it's really been an asset to this community."

Sparkman made a controversial move when he voted to approve a 1-cent sales-tax increase for education, but it was something he believed had to be done, said his widow.

He told The Daily in March 1994, while running for his fifth term, that it was one of the hardest decisions he had had to make in office.

"I guess that's weighed on my mind more than anything, but when children are involved, you have just got to have it if they are going to have a good education," he said.

Sparkman was also been praised as a strong supporter of environmental stewardship.

He said in 1994 that finding ways to dispose of accumulating garbage was the "No. 1 problem" facing Morgan County. He encouraged recycling, and in 1992, Adopt-A-Mile leaders honored him for recruiting volunteers to clean up 61.2 miles of highway.

Faye Sparkman said her husband would have served his county as long as residents continued to elect him if deteriorating health hadn't forced him to retire.

One year into his sixth term, Sparkman underwent heart surgery. Just two months later, in February 1999, he suffered a stroke. The resulting health problems left him unable to fulfill his duties as commissioner.

Faye Sparkman served the remainder of his term, making her the first and only woman to serve on the Morgan County Commission.

While county residents will most likely remember Charles Sparkman for his efforts as commissioner, family members insisted he deserves just as much respect for his ability to pull off a good prank.

His son, Maurice, recalled a night when Sparkman tricked his daughter-in-law into thinking he was a woman.

"One of the schools was holding a beauty walk as a fundraiser, and several of the commissioners and Decatur dignitaries walked in it. He got all dressed up, and actually made a pretty good-looking woman," said Maurice Sparkman, laughing.

"He went over to Stanley's house and his wife answered the door and had no idea it was him. He got 'em pretty good."

The practical jokester passed the trait on to his grandchildren, said Maurice Sparkman.

Charles Sparkman had fallen asleep in his chair one night in 1999 with his socks and shoes off, he said.

"Three of the granddaughters snuck up on him and painted his toenails," he said. "He woke up to find it on his toes and laughed so hard."

Maurice Sparkman said his father refused to take the toenail polish off because it would make him laugh every time he saw his colorful toes.

"When he went in to have his heart surgery, the doctors were looking at him kind of funny, wondering what the toenail polish was for," he said.

Charles Sparkman is also survived by his sons, Stanley and Larry, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

His funeral will be held at Peck Funeral Home on Monday at 11 a.m., followed by burial in Johnson Chapel Cemetery. Visitation is from 6 to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

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