As you may know, Joy has been battling cancer for the second time since June, 2008. She has courageously fought the cancer via chemotherapy and radiation. Since December her condition has steadily worsened. She has been hospitalized four times since mid-December. I am sad to tell you that her cancer is terminal. She is now at home, resting comfortably and being cared for by hospice and by her family. Joy has maintained her beautiful smile and engaging personality throughout her battle and has never once complained. I am comforted by the wonderful times we have had together, especially the many trips we have made throughout the world and the great friends, former students/postdocs/visiting professors like you that we are blessed to have.
Don Sparks

Wednesday, February 18, 2009



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


  1. Asher and Smadar Bar-TalFebruary 19, 2009 at 9:04 AM

    Dear Don,

    We are very sorry to get the bad news about Joy. We would like to express our sympathy with you. We are very sorry that we will not be able to take part in the memorial service to pay respect to Joy and support to you.

    We will always remember her kind hospitality to us during my postdoc days in your lab as a young couple with two toddlers until our last meetings in the World Congress of Soil Science and in our visit in Delaware after the conference.

    Since my postdoc period we have witnessed the deep involvement of Joy in your career and professional relationships. We had the opportunity to know you and Joy and to see her admiration to you and her dedication to your success. Her ability to develop simultaneously her own career is admirable. In our meetings with you and Joy we felt the warm and deep connection between you. Joy and you were a model of a perfect loving couple that supported each other. It is hard to think of you without Joy.

    We hope that your memories of Joy's love to you and the enjoying and interesting life you experienced together will comfort you and will enable you to keep on your work in research, writing, editing, teaching and serving a leader of scientific projects and research groups.

    Our deepest regards

    Asher and Smadar Bar-Tal

  2. Rachel & Yigal SalingarFebruary 19, 2009 at 9:05 AM

    Dear Don,
    Rachel and I are very sad to learn that Joy has died. Our thoughts are with you and your family.
    We shall always remember your hospitality and are grateful that we had the opportunity to know you both.
    Please accept our condolences.
    Rachel & Yigal Salingar

  3. A very commited professional colleague
    When I think of Joy Sparks, I recall the many State 4-H Leader meetings that we attended together. Joy was a positive thinker, problem solver, realist, and team player. She served on numerous committees and was always commited to quality and accessible 4-H programs for all youth. Joy was a welcoming friend. I extend my sincere support and love to Joy's family. Joy wias highly respected and will be missed by many! Sue Fisher, retired Florida State 4-H Leader

  4. Tribute to Joy Sparks
    I am deeply saddened by the news of Joy's death. Just to utter the word leaves a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. I know how passionate Joy was about life in general and specifically about 4-H and her familiy. She was a joy to be around because she cared so much about what she did and the people who were engaged in the same work.
    To her family I would offer prayers that the memories of Joy and the way she lived her life will sustain you until such time as you can heal and go forward in your lives without her. To her colleagues and friends I can offer that I also grieve with you as well. The world is surely a poorer place today because of Joy's passing, but in the end it is a richer place because she lived and she lived so passionately and so sincerely in the interest of doing work that had true value to society.
    Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you in this time and that I will always hold a special place in my heart and memory for all that Joy was and is.
    A friend of Joy's for more than 25 years, a state 4-H program leader colleague and foundation executive colleague, and a recent semi-retired 4-H lifer! Jim Rutledge

  5. Dear Dr. Sparks,

    We are deeply saddened that Joy has left us. Despite your note earlier this month, Joy’s passing still came to us as too sudden and too early. Both my wife and I feel that we are fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know Joy during the years that I worked with you in Delaware. Dr. Sparks, please accept our sincere expression of sympathy and condolences on Joy’s leaving. It is a great loss to you as well as to all of us.


    Z. Z.

  6. Dear Don,
    It is with great sorrow and grief to know that the inevitable has at last happened and most lovable Joy has left for ever. We are extremely saddened. We were expecting that a miracle will happen and Joy would be saved but not. We all pray that the departed soul lives in peace. I never knew that our meeting with Joy in Philadelphia would be the last meeting. Don, it is a great personal loss to you, but you have to bear it. Her constant support and encouragement to you is apparent from the number widely-read quality books that you could write.

    Amrit and my sons join me in conveying our heart-felt condolence on this occasion of sorrow.

    Nanak Pasricha

  7. Dearest Don: I have loved reading and hearing all the letters on this site about Joy's professionalism in 4-H and her accomplishments in the academic world but, not knowing her in this light, my fond memories of Joy are of her laughter. Sharing a brother-in-law with you allowed me to be a part of this unusual and fun-loving family. Some of my fondest memories are of trips to your home in Delaware with Betty and Carolyn. We talk, in my family, about and laugh about my trips to your home in past years and Joy was instrumental in arranging side trips (our trip to Philadelphia to the farmers market and trying to find Three Street, our trip to Washington and your hilarious tribute to Jackie O., our trip to the beach and us trying to cover up the variclose veins, and our many trips to Vanity Fair on shopping trips). All these events were accompanied with gales of laughter and still evoke these fits with the retelling of these stories.

    Joy was a "joy" to be with, always a joyful hostess and such a helpmate to you. She will be missed. Thank you for sharing her with me.

    Mary Steele
    Winchester, KY

  8. Dearest Friend and Colleague Don:

    Rosella, Giorgio and I are deeply impressed and extremely sad for the premature loss of the lovely JOY.

    We, as all friends around the world, will always remember Joy for Her contagious smile, Her great motivation, enthusiasm and true passion in doing things, Her strong personality, Her elegance, grace and style, and Her optimism, among the several beautiful qualities and attitudes She had.

    Please, feel us as strongly and heartly supporting you in these extremely sad and difficult times that, we are sure, you will have the strength to overcome.

    Truly Yours.
    Nicola, Rosella and Giorgio