North County News
  September 26, 2007    


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Pages from the past - History of Sparks High School preserved i
By Pat van den Beemt

An attic may not be the place to venture during this hot summer, but Wayne McGinnis and Dorcas Ensor Schaeffer are urging North County residents to endure the heat for the sake of the old Sparks High School.

They want Sparks High graduates, and families of alumni who are deceased, to dig through boxes in attics, as well as in closets and basements.

They'll take anything - class photos, school newspapers, class lists, team photos, graduation announcements, play programs, report cards.

Their goal is enormous - to preserve the history of the school that opened in 1909 as a high school for a farm community. The high school was known as "Agricultural High School" until the name was changed to Sparks High School about 1920.

The stone building on Sparks Road was converted to an elementary school in 1953 when Hereford Junior/Senior High School opened. It was destroyed in a 1995 fire.

"If you have anything about Sparks that you want to share, we want to hear from you," said McGinnis, who attended Sparks High for two years. He then went to Hereford High and was in its first graduating class in 1954.

"Unfortunately, as the older alumni die, their families don't know what to do with this sort of thing. They look at these old photos; they don't know anybody in them, and they throw them away."

He and Schaeffer, a 1955 North Carroll High School graduate who attended Sparks until 10th grade, have teamed up to make the Sparks record more complete.

Schaeffer is an expert at putting together scrapbooks. She makes copies of memorabilia sent in by Sparks families, then labels everything, puts decorative borders around it all, and puts it into a scrapbook.

The Ensor and the McGinnis families have lived in North County for generations, so when photos come to them without any identification, they become detectives.

"We start calling people we know, and before you know it, we find somebody who can tell us who's in a picture. Lots of times, we get all sorts of stories to go with the people in it, too," Schaeffer said.

Although Sparks High School opened in 1909, it didn't have a graduating class until 1912. The Sparks scrapbooks do not contain a class photo for that year, but simply a list with the names of all nine graduates.

The first class photo they've been able to find is from 1915. They also have a class list of the 15 graduates that year, plus a photo of the boys' basketball team.

While most schools print yearbooks, the only one they've found for Sparks is from 1915 and is called "The Agriculturist."

McGinnis said the school went to 11th grade until 1949, when it added a 12th grade. Consequently, there is no graduating class of 1950.

A check of class lists shows that many students did not attend high school every year.

"The farm families always needed help at the farm, so they'd send one of the boys one year, then he'd stay home and work on the farm, and they'd send another to Sparks," McGinnis said. He said the early class lists have many more girls than boys.

Gone but not forgotten

Neither McGinnis nor Schaeffer planned on becoming the keepers of Sparks High's history - especially considering that neither graduated from the school.

Schaeffer has many relatives who graduated from Sparks, and she became particularly interested in the school's history when she found some of her uncle's memorabilia. Jim Ensor graduated in 1933, and she unearthed his diploma, a basketball team photo, a fabric letter "S" for playing sports, and a graduation announcement his family sent out.

She put his things in a scrapbook and offered the same service to other relatives, including Ruth Almony Dixon, a 1936 grad, and Margaret Almony Cameron, who graduated in 1941. The Almony sisters had saved a lot from their Sparks days, including some of their report cards.

About the same time, Wayne McGinnis was trying to find out about successful Sparks sports teams. As a member of the Sparks-Hereford Alumni Association, McGinnis was looking for people to nominate to the association's new Athletic Hall of Fame.

"I had boxes of Sparks records that sat in the vault at the old Sparks Bank, and I had team photos that people gave me for the Hall of Fame," said McGinnis, whose family has farmed in White Hall since the late 1800s. "It was just easier to organize it all to see what I had."

Schaeffer heard that McGinnis wanted Sparks material, so she offered him copies of her scrapbooks. Before long, they had enough material to fill several.

McGinnis brought the scrapbooks to a Sparks High reunion hosted by Clyde Morris in May. As graduates passed by, he asked them to help identify people in class or team photos.

"Sometimes, all you need is one person who has a good memory, and can go down each row and tell you who's who," he said. "There are still people like that out there, but nobody's getting any younger. We need people to call us."

E-mail Pat van den Beemt at Pat van den

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