By Carl Keith Greene / Staff Writer
“He loved the kids and always had a smile,” said Gilbert Acciardo, family resource director at Laurel County’s Johnson Elementary School.
William E. Sparkman, Jr. was a substitute teacher in Laurel County schools and also a field representative for the U.S. Census Bureau.
He was found dead Saturday in southern Clay County.
Census Bureau Executive Director Dr. Robert Groves notified census employees of the incident by e-mail Wednesday morning.
He wrote, Sparkman “was the victim of an apparent crime and passed away this past weekend at the age of 51.” He added, “I wanted all Census Bureau staff to know of this incident, and ask you to keep Mr. Sparkman’s family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Sparkman’s body was reportedly found at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday in a wooded area near Hoskins Cemetery, about 18 miles south of Manchester.
Police are releasing no details on the manner of Sparkman’s death.
According to Clay County Chief Deputy Sheriff Gary Harris, the area in which the body was found, on Arnett’s Fork, is near Double Creek off KY 66. He described it as sparsely populated.
According to Clay County Coroner James Trosper, the body was sent to the state medical examiner for an autopsy.
Acciardo called Sparkman “a very conscientious employee who worked in the after-school day care programs at Bush and Camp Ground schools,” as well as Johnson.
It was Johnson Elementary where he began his quest for a bachelor’ degree in mathematics education, which he was awarded in 2007.
He told a reporter in a March 2008 Times-Tribune story that he became involved with Johnson school when his son, now 19, attended there. His son could pass tests easily, but struggled with assignments, Sparkman had said.
So Sparkman decided to volunteer in the classroom and eventually was hired as a teaching assistant. He later became a substitute teacher for the school system.
Beginning in September 2005, he began taking online classes with Western Governors University in Salt Lake City.
In December 2007, he graduated from the school and in February 2008, drove to Utah to participate in the graduation ceremony.
He told the reporter in 2008, “It took me five days to make the four-day trip, thanks to Mother Nature, and the harsh road conditions in Wyoming. But once I got to Utah, it was clear sailing the rest of the way.”
During his studies, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
But the cancer failed to stand in his way. He continued to work at the school, except on Fridays when he was scheduled for chemotherapy treatment.
The treatment ended in March 2008, and, by others’ accounts, he had been doing well at the time of his death.
Sparkman was waiting for a math teacher position to open while he substituted as a teacher, worked at the after-school programs and worked with the Census Bureau.
He told the reporter, “I’m hoping to stay here in Laurel County, but I’d be willing to travel to any of the other schools, if that’s where a position opens. My home, my life, is here in Laurel County, and this is where I want to stay.”
A recent student of his as a substitute, Kelli Greene at South Laurel High School, remembered him as, “well loved. We at the high school called him ‘Sparky,’ though he didn’t like it too much. He always had a smile on his face, even when students prodded him about the toboggan he would wear to cover his growing hair resulting from his (cancer) treatment.”
Details surrounding Sparkman’s death are limited at this time.
Anyone with information regarding Mr. Sparkman or this investigation is urged to contact Detective Donald Wilson or the Kentucky State Police at (606) 878-6622 or at 1-800-222-5555.