•life, Elizabeth Sparks devoted herself to teaching, caring for and, above all else, loving children.
And in death, she is being honored and remembered for the impact she made on so many people.
Sparks, who often was called “Sparky,” “Beth” or “Miss Elizabeth,” lost her battle with breast cancer March 14. She would have been 46 this October.
For 22 years, she taught preschool at Little Angels Daycare in Seymour. She also spent as many years working as an assistant manager at the former Dairy Mart convenience store, now Circle K, on North Ewing Street.
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Although she worked roughly 16-hour days, she always found someone else on whom to spend her paychecks, said Pastor Larry Arrowood with The Tabernacle, where Sparks was a longtime faithful member.
Whether it was a family in need, a former student, a friend or co-worker, or even a complete stranger, Sparks wanted to help people in any way she could, he said. She rarely spent money on herself, he added, and often even sought funds from the Seymour church to help others.
Arrowood, along with Pastor Todd Smith, spoke at length about Sparks during her celebration of life ceremony Wednesday at the church. That service was attended by those whose lives had been touched by Sparks. Every pew was full, and some people stood in the back or up in the balcony.
The Tabernacle, which operates Little Angels and Seymour Christian Academy, plans to build a playground at their new campus on North Sandy Creek Drive, naming it Miss Elizabeth’s Kids Memorial Playground. It may be a couple of years before the playground is complete, but it’s something Sparks would have loved and enjoyed with her students, Arrowood said.
“The sounds of laughter and singing that surrounded our dear Miss Elizabeth will not fade,” he said. “Our hope is for generations to come of Miss Elizabeth’s kids will be frequent visitors to this special place. Kids young and old will keep Miss Elizabeth’s legacy alive by doing what she taught so many — to play, to laugh and to love.”
Smith, who started the preschool at the church with his wife, Sherry, in 1992, said Sparks is and always will be a hero to him and his family, her own family, her church and the community.
“Ms. Sparky is recognized for her patience, love for children, quality care and commitment to service,” Smith said. “She is known for building strong parent relationships and going the extra mile in keeping the parents and children on the right track.”
Sparks had an uncanny way of remembering every student’s name and face, no matter how long ago she had them in class, Smith said.
“She would come into my office and ask if I remembered so and so. They were in her class sometime in the last century, and she wanted to tell me of their accomplishment,” Smith said jokingly. “It never surprised us when one of her students that she taught 15 to 20 years ago stopped by to see her.”
Smith said Sparks always found a way to reach students, especially those who were struggling.
“Ms. Elizabeth always taught outside the box. She accepted each child for who they were and found ways to make a difference in their life,” he said. “She could make everyone feel special and make them think they are her favorite.”
Sandra Kyle only worked with Sparks at Little Angels for a year, but she knew her for most of her life since their parents were neighbors and they both went to The Tabernacle.
During that short time of working with her, Kyle saw the impact Sparks made on everyone.
“She was the most amazing person you would ever meet,” said Kyle, who teaches infants at the daycare. “She was so sweet. She had such a big heart. She would do anything for anybody.”
After graduating from Seymour Christian Academy in 1988 and Indiana Bible College in 1991, Sparks began working at the day care.
“She was so dedicated,” Kyle said. “This place was her passion. Kids were her passion.”
Kyle said she liked seeing Sparks interact with the kids.
Although she had no children of her own, Sparks considered all of the students in her classes hers.
“She had such a motherly spirit about her, and just how much she cared about them, you could tell she just had a light about her that shined,” Kyle said. “When you would see her out, she was always talking about her kids. These were her kids. I think every time I look at kids, I remember her.”
Rebekah Mains, the day care’s current director, saw that, too.
“She had a love and commitment to her students like I’ve never seen anyone have,” Mains said. “Elizabeth inspires us all to love more, to see the good in every student.”
Mains has only been director of the day care for a year, but she previously was a teacher there for 16 years.
“Elizabeth had the ability to make order out of chaos,” Mains said. “She had a way of dealing with challenges. We took our challenges to Elizabeth, and she knew exactly what to do.”
Mains said Sparks helped her make the transition to taking over the day care.
“She was such an encouragement to me,” Mains said. “Even through her sickness, she was coming in and encouraging me and telling me that I could do this and I was doing a good job. Her stamp of approval made it feel right.”
Mains said Sparks’ prized possession was a cabinet of school supplies she had collected over the years. She wanted to ensure teachers and students had everything they needed.
At the funeral Wednesday, Mains said it was nice to hear so many people say good things about Sparks.
“One of her former students said to me that he felt Miss Elizabeth knew more about him than his own family,” Mains said. “It was just comments like that that we heard over and over again.”
On Thursday, students and staff of Little Angels and Seymour Christian Academy released balloons outside of the facility along Indianapolis Avenue as family headed to Riverview Cemetery for the graveside service.
Sparks is survived by her mother, Eunice Sparks; sister, Lois Penrose; and two brothers, Donald and James Sparks. Her father, Hubert Sparks, died of cancer in 2011.
“I feel like it’s exactly what she would have wanted,” Mains said as different colors of balloons floated toward the sky.
“This was amazing. I have never seen anything like it in my life,” Kyle added. “This is the perfect tribute for her. I think she would have absolutely loved it.”
Working alongside her, Kyle said Sparks had a great sense of humor.
“She was so funny, and she just always had a smile on her face,” Kyle said. “She always had encouraging things to say, and she was just one of those types of people that you wanted to be her friend. To know Elizabeth was to love Elizabeth.”