JOY LYNN GOODEN SPARKS
Joy Lynn Gooden Sparks, 57, of Newark and Dewey Beach, DE passed away Tuesday, February 17 at home in Newark after a courageous battle with cancer. Joy was born September 10, 1951 in Milford, DE to Betty Lou Hopkins and Daniel Moore Gooden. A lifelong Delawarean, Joy grew up in the Wyoming, DE area and graduated in 1969 from Caesar Rodney High School in Camden, DE. At an early age, Joy became involved in 4-H, and excelled in a number of projects, winning many state and national honors, including a National 4-H Achievement Award and numerous blue ribbons at the Delaware State Fair. It was her involvement and love of all things related to 4-H that propelled her to spend her life’s work in the 4-H program. She received a B.S. degree in Home Economics from the University of Delaware in 1973 and later pursued graduate studies. Immediately after receiving her undergraduate degree, Joy began a 35 year career in the University of Delaware’s Cooperative Extension Service, first serving as 4-H agent for New Castle County. In 1980 she was promoted to Area 4-H agent and in 1993 she assumed the position of State Leader for the Delaware 4-H program. During her career, Joy touched the lives of thousands of youth and volunteer leaders and was a major player in 4-H at the national level. Her mentoring led to many young Delawareans achieving major success in their careers.
Joy was instrumental in building the Delaware 4-H program into a national powerhouse. Her efforts resulted in a number of additional staff being hired and the receipt of significant state and federal funding. Last year, Delaware 4-H reached nearly 70,000 young people, which represents more than 47% of the market share of eligible youth in Delaware- more than twice the percentage of any other state.
Encouraging the involvement of young people from non-traditional programs into ongoing 4-H activities, Joy provided leadership in the new 4-H Military Partnership in Delaware, helping to establish partners from Dover Air Force Base and the Delaware National Guard in an effort to make the Delaware 4-H program available to the families of all deployed military members. These efforts resulted in commendations from The United States Navy and the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents.
Joy played a major role in the establishment and development of the Delaware 4-H Foundation and served as liaison to the Foundation Board and motivated board members to focus energy on fundraising. During the 100th anniversary of 4-H, $300,000 was raised by the Foundation during its first endowment campaign.
At the national level she served on the National 4-H Strategic Directions team, the National 4-H Leadership Trust, the National 4-H Congress board and was the Headquarters Chairperson of the National 4-H Congress Design team. In addition, she was a member of DANA (Delaware Association of Non-Profits), NAE4-HA (National Association of Extension 4-H Agents) and Epsilon Sigma Phi, the National Extension Fraternity. She was also a fellow in the Executive Institute in Fund Development.
Joy was the recipient of awards at both the State and national levels. She was recognized by the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents with several awards and received multiple accolades from University of Delaware Extension including the Perpetual Lighthouse Award, the highest award that a University of Delaware Cooperative Extension employee can receive. Joy provided able leadership to statewide overnight camps, Teen Conference, State Fair, curriculum development, and out of state 4-H events. She won two Outstanding Program awards from the Alpha Theta Chapter of Epsilon Sigma Phi (1989 and 2007) and was the regional winner of the Outstanding Achievement in Air Force Recruiting Salute Award in 2007. She also received the Meritorious Service Award from NAE4-HA as well as the Distinguished Service Award.
In 2002, the Delaware 4-H Foundation recognized Joy with the first Jim Baker Memorial Award for service to Delaware 4-H. In 2004, Joy was the first recipient of the University of Delaware’s Ratledge Family Award for Delaware Public Service. This past October she was the recipient of the New Castle County Farm Bureau’s Distinguished Service Award and in December the Delaware Farm Bureau presented her with the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award. At the award ceremony she received a proclamation from the Delaware Senate and House of Representatives presented by State Representative Bethany Hall-Long.
Joy served the community outside 4-H with enthusiasm as a civic association member and officer, past president of the Delaware Home Economics Association, president of the College of Education and Public Policy Alumni Association, and president of the UD Women’s Club. Since 1988, she served as a Director of the Delaware State Fair and was the first woman to serve on the Executive Committee as Vice President.
Joy and her husband of 24 years, Don Sparks, have been avid travelers, mixing business trips with vacation. Over the years they spent many fun times in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. Joy was a valuable partner with Don, in his role as President of the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS), in serving as ambassador for soil science at numerous meetings and conferences throughout the world, including the 18th World Congress of Soil Science in 2006 in Philadelphia. Joy was also a wonderful friend to many graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who have studied at the University of Delaware.
Many words and phrases can be used to describe Joy: a contagious smile, magnetic personality, role model, class act, sense of humor, inspirational, motivator, elegance, style, grace, kind, thoughtful, passionate about life, 4-H, Delaware, the University of Delaware, and the Delaware State Fair, beautiful, elegant, the consummate optimist, unassuming, and strong. Perhaps her name, best describes her- she brought JOY to so many.
Joy is survived by her beloved husband of 24 years, Don, her parents Betty and Dan Gooden, a sister and brother-in-law, Dana and Richard Sharpe, a brother and sister-in-law, Alex and Barbara Gooden, and a brother, Richard Gooden, all of Wyoming, DE; six nieces, Sherry Kijowski and Jessica Flaherty of Wyoming, DE, Heather Gooden of Dover, DE, Lindsay Hughes of Georgetown, DE, Elizabeth Donohue of Medford, MA, and Kelly Gooden of Aiken, SC; two grand nephews, Seth and Aidan Flaherty of Wyoming, DE; a sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Betty and Henry Steele, Winchester, KY; and her beloved Scottish terrier, Winston.
A memorial service to celebrate Joy’s life will be held on Monday, February 23 at 3:00 pm at John M. Clayton Hall on the University of Delaware campus. Joy’s family will be available to greet guests beginning at 1:00 pm. A reception will immediately follow the service. Interment will be private. Contributions to honor Joy may be made to the Joy G. Sparks Memorial Fund, Delaware 4-H Foundation, 113 Townsend Hall, 531 S. College Ave., Newark, DE 19716 or to the Joy G. Sparks Scholarship, Director of Development, University of Delaware, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, 531 S. College Ave., 113 Townsend Hall, Newark, DE 19716-2170