Franc "Frankie" Barkman was born east of Sparta on her father's (James Barkman) High Lake farm. At age sixteen, she attended Ypsilanti Normal and then returned to Sparta to teach at Bass, Fonger, and Englishville schools. Later, Frankie left Sparta to accept the position as penmanship instructor of the Grand Rapids Schools. While in Grand Rapids, she lived in the home of Judge Wolcott. There she met her future husband, Robert A Curry, a wealthy English businessman from Nassau, Bahamas. Robert became the Councilman from the Bahamas to Norway. Beecause of this position, he was Knighted by the King of Norway, and Frankie assumed the title, "Lady Curry." Later, the British government also bestowed upon her these same honors.
With these titles came many invitations from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. After World War I, Frankie became a visiting delegate at the League of Nations in Paris; and after World War II, her only son, Robert, became a Chaplin of the United Nations. Although Frankie and her husband spent much time in Scandinavia, she retained a close relationship with her friends and family in the U.S. and in Sparta. Her descendant and namesake is her grandniece, Mrs. Thomas "Franc" Kutzli, formerly of Sparta.
When asked for three words to describe this Notable, no fewer than 65 people shared words that describe why this extra-ordinary man is beloved and one of many reasons why Mr. Arnie DePagter is one of our Sparta Notables for the year 2018.
Great, wonderful friend, caring, handsome, role model, humble, kind, friendly, intelligent, servant, warm hearted, welcoming, a treasure, God-fearing, a beautiful soul, leader, trustworthy, beloved, respectful, fair, unassuming, wise, encouraging, uplifting, constant, consistent, happy, inspiring, a Christian, sincere, respected, and more.
Arnie DePagter was born February 27, 1942, the eldest of four sons to Roland and Alyce DePagter. Born in Oostburg, Wisconsin, he was raised on a small dairy farm north of Milwaukee on the shores of Lake Michigan. Arnie graduated from Oostburg High School in 1960. He graduated from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, in 1964 with a major in English and minors in Psychology and Spanish. Arnie chose to study Spanish and was inspired by a friend and classmate from El Salvador who made the language "come alive!"
In 1964 he was hired by Sparta High School Superintendent, Mr. Bill DeHart, to fill an opening for the Spanish teaching position.
In 1967 Arnie married Renae (Wilmarth) DePagter. They have a daughter Andrea (DePagter) Murdock, a son, Tony (Kim) DePagter, and 5 grandchildren, Jordan, Jacob, and Jenna Murdock and Nicholas and Avery DePagter.
Arnie's career at Sparta High School also includes coaching and multiple mentoring programs, academically and athletically, with the students. While leading the Spanish Language program, the highlight for his students was the Spanish Club trip to Mexico. In the summer of 1970, forty students boarded a bus and were driven straight through to Mexico City on a fabulous historical sightseeing tour where students saw the St. Louis Arch "the gateway to the west." There was a stop at historic Dealey Plaza in Dallas and a visit to the Alamo on the way through San Antonio. On to Mexico City to the pyramids, the University of Mexico, and a bull fight where the girls cheered for the bull. The chaperones? The ever-patient Mr. and Mrs. DePagter and Renae's sister and her husband. Brave souls for sure.
At the time in the early 1970's, the Spanish Club had approximately 150 members, the largest club in the school. That was Mr. D. He made us want to learn and experience as many things as possible!
The Spanish Fiesta! All-hands-on-deck under the guidance of Mr. DePagter. It seems the whole community participated. There were games, prizes, food, and fun with friends-a sense of community. Arnie instilled that in everything he did.
Students also missed very few baseball games in those years when Mr. D was the Varsity Coach. Warm spring days on the banks of Nash Creek at Balyeat Field where we sat and watched as he coached and mentored our own "boys of summer." Those were halcyon days. Calm, peaceful days.
His last 5 years at SHS he served as athletic director and retired in 1996.
In retirement the DePagters are enjoying family, grandchildren's sporting events, their church, traveling, and the Shaklee health and wellness business they have shared together for 40 plus years.
Arnie values his years in Sparta as an immense privilege to work with such exceptional co-workers, students, families and friends and to call Sparta home. Sparta values Arnie. Thank you, Mr. D. Sparta is better because you were led to us. We appreciate you. Godspeed to you and your family.
Frank Hall was well known worldwide as a skilled dog sled builder as well as a dog sled driver for many years. His love affair with dog sleds began as an eleven-year-old youngster growing up in Newaygo. The year of 1936 had an abundance of snow and he and his family were somewhat homebound that winter. But he still had to go to school and at lunch hour he would run down to the city library which was a block and a half away. Reading books about snowy adventures in the wild by authors such as Jack London piqued his interest in dogsledding.
When he was fourteen, his family moved to a farm near Sparta. He was given an acre of land to work and grow potatoes. Frank made $15 that summer, all of which he spent on his sled dog. Soon after he copied a photograph and while looking at it, built his first dog sled-which was crude-the result of having very poor tools. He credited his high school shop teacher, Leonard Newton, with teaching him the secrets of bending and steaming wood.
From this humble beginning, Frank became internationally known in the world of dog sleds. Playing on some good football teams at Sparta High in the mid 1940's, he also served in the Navy during WWII. After serving, he started building dog sleds and later his wife, Nettie, joined as he built dog sleds for over fifty years. As a racer, Frank placed in the top five in many world races in the 1960's and 1970's-placing second in the prestigious race in Ely, Minnesota-a race run in minus 35-degree temperature. Later he, as chairman, ran the Great Lakes race in Kalkaska. Then, in the late 1970's, he went into sled building as a full-time business.
Frank Hall was a master craftsman who hand-built more dog sleds than anyone else in the business. He built more than 5,000 sleds for drivers across the USA and Canada and later even in Japan. He is an amazing story of an eleven-year-old who had a dream in Newaygo, later in Sparta, and eventually near Jackson, who was so enthralled with dogsledding that he started building his own crude dog sleds, only to become possibly the greatest builder of his time. Mr. Hall died in 2007 in Jackson, Michigan.
Mary Jean Herwaldt
Mary Jean Chorman Herwaldt was born Mary Jean Falconer in North Park Michigan on February 20, 1925. The Falconer family moved to a 50-acre farm on 12 Mile Road in Sparta in 1938. Mary Jean joined the Sparta Baptist Church during her high school years and is still a member today. She was the treasurer at Sparta Baptist for 31 years and has served faithfully for many years.
Mary Jean graduated from Sparta High in 1942 and married her high school sweetheart, Ed Chorman, in 1947. Ed died in 1987 and in 1993 Mary Jean married David Herwaldt.
Just four days after her graduation from Sparta High School, 17-year-old Mary Jean Falconer launched her career in banking on Sparta's Main Street. "I began at the old People's State Bank for the summer," Mary Jean told the Grand Rapids Press in 1990. "I was paid 30 cents an hour for a total of 30 1/2 hours, which was not bad in those days. Banks closed at 3 o'clock in the afternoon then, so I also was able to work part time at the Kroger store in Sparta. Those were the only two jobs I ever held."
When the People's State Bank and Sparta State Bank merged in 1955, Mary Jean joined Sparta State Bank as a teller. She became assistant cashier and was promoted to cashier and manager of the mortgage department. Mary Jean was elected to the Board of Directors in 1972 and became the first female Vice President in 1973. In 1984 she was offered the position of Bank President when A. Barth Carlson retired. She declined because at the time her husband and high school sweetheart, Ed, was ill. She served as interim President from April to November, 1984, however.
Mary Jean has always been involved in the community. Mary Jean and Ed Chorman purchased the train depot at the north end of town from Harry Carlson to preserve it for future generations. She made the very first donation to the Sparta Education Foundation and it was with a donation from Mary Jean that the Sparta Township Historical Commission was able to purchase the building we currently occupy at 71 N. Union.
From a summer job at the old People's State Bank to the first Vice President of the Sparta State Bank, Mary Jean was a woman ahead of her time. An example and an inspiration to young people in our village that hard work, love of community, generosity, and service will always serve us well. Mary Jean served her church and her hometown with love. The Sparta Township Historical Commission is proud that Mary Jean entrusted us with her generosity. We promise always to be good stewards of that trust. Mary Jean Falconer Chorman Herwaldt, one of Sparta's Notables, 2018.
Mary Louise Hoffmeyer
Mary Louise Hoffmeyer, through her long and distinguished career, became one of the most beloved teachers ever at Sparta Area Schools. She was born Mary Louise Powers to Mr. and Mrs. William Powers in Sparta in 1916. She graduated from Sparta High School in 1934 and earned a degree in education from Albion College. She married Harold Hoffmeyer and they had a son, David.
As a kindergarten teacher, she endeared herself to not only her students, but also parents, faculty, and pretty much anyone she dealt with. If you can appreciate someone who becomes very, very good at what they do, you would admire Mary Louise. In fact, in 1967 there was an educational publication called Grade Teacher that was bent on finding and identifying the top 100 kindergarten teachers in the United States. They were looking for those who, in their words, "had an intense interest in and appreciation for young children and a love affair with the job that makes every day an adventure." They hired a firm called Trendex to do a national survey to find the top 100. Superintendents across the country submitted nominations and Trendex then interviewed the nominees. Mary Louise made the top 100! For those who knew her, the award simply validated, in a beautiful way, what they already knew... she was a great teacher and she loved her work.
She was well respected by those who worked with her. They admired the very casual way she could entice, motivate, and control kids in a way that the kids enjoyed and therefore wanted to do what she instructed them to do.
Her former students were quick to share memories of her, and as one student years later remembered, "She commanded our attention effortlessly. She was simply calm, kind, and in charge."
Mary Louise was also a very capable Scrabble player and had many marathon games on Saturday afternoons with friends. It was, as one of the competitors described, a serious, no-holds-barred, no-dictionaries-allowed form of Scrabble.
In 1970 Mary Louise retired from teaching at Sparta Schools and, with her 2nd husband Christopher Ema, moved to Santa Ana, California, until her passing in 2008. She is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Sparta.
Because of Mary Louise Hoffmeyer, many in Sparta still have very fond memories of their first year of school.
H. J. Kurtz
Horace Jacob, HJ Kurtz was born on March 28, 1890, in Lafayette, Indiana, to Jacob and Phoebe Kurtz. He was the second of 4 children. After finishing public school, he attended the Lafayette Conservatory of Music, eventually living in Chicago to further his musical education. During this time, he was a member of the Apollo Chorus, as well as directing the Park Ridge Methodist Church Choir. During the nineteen teens he wrote several hymns. One was a reworking of “Onward Christian Solders” with permission from the original composers Sabine Baring-Gould, and Arthur Sullivan. He also had many of his hymns published later in his life.
HJ came to Sparta, Michigan, in the summer of 1921 to direct the annual Chautauqua program. Chautauqua was a movement to bring enlightenment to rural areas in the late 19th, early 20th centuries. During this time, he met and married Carol Bird Holmes on May 20, 1923. The couple spent the first 10 years of their marriage traveling around the country involved with annual Chautauqua programs. During the winter months they would travel with ministries as soloists and musical director. HJ and Carol moved back to Sparta in 1932 following the death of her father, Frank Holmes. Frank was the owner of Sparta Sentinel Leader from 1917 until his death in 1931. HJ worked with his mother-in-law Anlulah Norton Holmes for a while to learn the newspaper business. Carol was also known for the weekly column "Seeing Life" for 35 years. He ran the Sparta Sentinel Leader along with a printing business until his retirement in 1961. Carol passed away November 13, 1965, after a long illness.
Both HJ and Carol were major contributors to Sparta and the surrounding community. In 1937 he helped form the Sparta Rotary Club, serving as the first president. Here are some of the organizations HJ was a part of: served a 5 year term as the director of the Michigan Press Association, 5 year term as a Kent County Jury Commissioner, member of the National Editorial Association, 50 year life member of Sparta Mason Lodge No 334, Saladin Templar Shrine, Northern Valley Jurisdiction Valley of Grand Rapids, Life Member of the Sparta Rotary Club, member of Sparta Chamber of Commerce, Fraternal Order of Police Grand Rapids Chapter No 97, United States Citizens Service Corps, 1952 listed in "Who’s Who in the Mid West," 5 term Village President, and Sparta Township Zoning Board.
During World War II HJ served as the regional director of War Bond Sales, and Red Cross Community Chest Fund Drive. He was also known for striving to make Sparta a better community for the citizens.
Carol took time serving with some of the following organizations: member of the Sparta Baptist Church, a charter member of the Sparta chapter of St. Mary’s Hospital Service League, former member of Michigan Poetry Society and National Pen Women, Grand Rapids Literary Society and St. Cecelia Society, Harmony Chapter No. 34 Sparta, Order of the Eastern Star, Ladies Literary Club, Sparta Garden Club, Sparta Women's Republican Club, and Carr Circle of the Sparta Methodist Church.
In 1960 HJ contacted the American Forestry Association to have his back yard tree listed as the largest Catalpa tree in the United States to honor his wife, Carol. This is quoted from an article posted in April 21, 1971, Sparta Sentinel Leader, "H. J. Kurtz has a champion. A little known national champion lives quietly in the backyard of H. J. Kurtz, 101 W, Division St, Sparta. The champion is a Catalpa tree approximately 140 years old which measures 184 inches around at a distance of four feet above the ground. It is 54 feet high and has a spread of 58 feet. A landmark in which many area oldsters played as children, the Catalpa is the largest of its species known in the United States, according to the Michigan Botanical Club, mostly hollow now and perhaps approaching death from old age, the tree apparently has the trunk of a smaller Catalpa growing inside it. The smaller tree with a girth of about 30 inches, may be seen through an opening on the north side of the huge, old trunk. Two aluminum plaques placed on the tree by the Botanical Club testify to its championship. Kurtz, a retired publisher and former Sparta mayor, says an occasional tree buff stops in to admire the ancient Catalpa. It is listed, along with 59 other national champion trees in Michigan out of a total of 117, in a publication put out by the former Michigan Department of Conservation and the Michigan Association of Nurserymen."
In 2003, it was tied with another tree in Tecumseh the last time record keepers came out to measure it, and the state club still listed the Catalpa as having the largest girth. A 16.25-foot trunk circumference, and as tying with a Tecumseh Catalpa as overall largest. But the national group, now called American Forests, listed a Mississippi specimen as the largest Southern Catalpa. Sadly, the champion Catalpa tree did not survive a severe storm of August 9, 2009.
Horace Jacob Kurtz passed away at the age of 86 in August, 1976. One of his final gifts to the community was bequeathed to the Sparta Rotary $10,000 to establish the H J Kurtz youth fund. The fund has helped shape the youth of Sparta for many years and is awarded annually to this day.
Walter A. Reister
Captain Walter A. Reister is a notable United States naval officer and patriot from Sparta. Born in 1935 to Alvin and Kathryn Reister, Walter spent his childhood wandering the quaint neighborhoods of Sparta with his siblings and cousins. In high school, Walter lettered in tennis, established and served as president of the chess club, and served as class president for two years. He graduated third in his class from Sparta High School in 1953. After high school, Walter attended the University of Michigan for one year before accepting an appointment to the United States Naval Academy from Representative (later president) Gerald R. Ford.
Walter excelled during his time at the Naval academy in Annapolis, MD, alongside notable classmates John S. McCain and John M. Poindexter. He graduated in 1958 in the top 10% of his class. Shortly after graduating, he married the love of his life, Evelyn Hardcastle of Lansdown, PA. He began his naval career serving on the USS Fred T. Berry from 1958 to 1961. His first son, Walter A. Reister, Jr. was born in 1959. After serving on the Staff of Destroyer Squadron 36 stationed out of Norfolk, VA, from 1961 to 1962, he attended the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, where he earned a Master of Science in Physics in 1965. His second son, Richard A. Reister, was born in 1961.
After graduate school, Walter served as a Weapons Officer on the USS Towers from 1965 to 1967 based out of San Diego, CA, completing two tours of Vietnam that conducted pilot search and rescue missions. His third son, Curtis K. Reister, was born in 1965. He then served as a Sonar Evaluation Officer on the Key West Test and Evaluation Detachment in Key West, FL, from 1967 to 1969. After Key West, Walter became the Executive Officer of the USS Brumby out of Mayport, FL, from 1969 to 1971. He attended the Naval Command and Staff school in Newport, RI, from 1971 to 1972. Walter served as the commanding officer of the USS Stein out of San Diego, CA, from 1973 to 1975, completing a third tour of Vietnam providing logistics support for clearing mines from Hai Phong Harbor before returning to the Naval Command and Staff School from 1975 to 1976. Capt. Reister considers his tour on the USS Stein as the best job he ever had. He served on the staff of the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC, from 1976 to 1982, working in undersea warfare.
After a career spanning 24 years, Walter formally retired from the US Navy in 1982. He worked as the Director of Program Management for DRS in Oakland, New Jersey, from 1982 to 1989 and as the Marketing Manager for EDO Corp. in Washington, DC from 1989 to 1994 before retiring in Fairfax, VA, with his wife of 53 years, Evelyn (deceased in 2011). Walter is a proud grandfather to five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He currently resides in Rockford, MI, and enjoys playing bridge.
William A. Rogers
William A. (Alonzo) Rogers was born in Leroy, Michigan on February 3, 1885. In 1908, he married Lusina Ballard, who at the time was a school teacher in Sparta (and part of the family from Ballard's Corner southwest of Sparta). They spent the first two and one-half years of their married life in Cadillac - where he delivered mail by horse and buggy - then moved to Sparta in 1911. William & Lusina had five children: Charles, Melvin, Nevamae, Flora Helen, and Loreen - all who graduated from Sparta High School.
From a business perspective, he operated a grocery store from 1911-1912, then worked at the Shelby Field Hardware Store from 1912-1914. In later 1914, he joined and purchased stock in J.C. Ballard & Co. (which had recently purchased the Shelby Field Hardware Store). In 1928, he formed the Wm. A. Rogers & Co. and at the same time, acquired Charles Fritz Hardware. Sometime later, he purchased the former livery stable (writer's note: on W. Division St. - just east of Fenton Records) - in which he would later operate a John Deere tractor dealership (separate from the hardware business).
Early-on, he took an interest in and invested much of his time and life in the Sparta community. Some of those involvements include:
- Sparta Baptist Church — Served as deacon, trustee, and Sunday school superintendent (the latter for 25 years)
- Sparta Village Council — Served for 12 years
- Mayor of Sparta — Four terms
- Sparta Board of Education — 14 years
- Sparta Parents Teacher Association (PTA) — In 1922, he became the first Sparta PTA president
- Both he and Mrs. Rogers served as president of the Sparta PTA
- Sparta State Bank — Board of Directors (1948 - 1965)
- Rotary Club of Sparta — Charter member at club's founding in 1937
- Sparta Community Foundation — Served as president
- Sparta Chamber of Commerce — Served on board for 16 years
- Greenwood Cemetery — Owned and managed cemetery until it was acquired by Sparta Township
- Community fundraising — Served as chairman of many Red Cross, War Bond, and Community Chest fundraising campaigns
- His love and dedication to Sparta was matched by a village who genuinely appreciated him. In 1952, William A. Rogers was chosen as Sparta's "Man of the Year." Then in 1965 - the year of his passing - the "William A. Rogers Memorial Park" (Rogers Park) was donated and dedicated in his honor by the Sparta Community Foundation
As was evidenced by his work and time spent with childhood and school-related endeavors, marriage and family were important to he and Lusina. Mr. & Mrs. Rogers celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on September 21, 1958 with a celebration at the First Baptist Church (now Sparta Baptist Church).
William A. Rogers passed away in Sparta at 80-1/2 years old on August 18, 1965. Services were held at the First Baptist Church on Saturday, August 21, 1965, and interment was in Greenwood Cemetery.
David Schieber was born January 4, 1952, and died on September 14, 2009, at age 57. David moved to Sparta in 1967, when he was entering his sophomore year in high school. He lived with his parents until graduating from law school in November, 1979.
David graduated from Sparta High School in 1970. His sense of humor was well known by all. Especially fun to see was a rather tall Dave fold himself into his Volkswagen VW and drive with great purpose and concentration to his next destination. He seemed always to be in a hurry. Dave was voted class cut-up his senior year. His sense of humor was enjoyed by all who knew him.
David began his college education at (then) Grand Rapids Junior College and graduated from University of Michigan's law school.
As an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, David Schieber tried some of toughest and most high-profile cases in Kent County. He was known for his deft courtroom skill, sharp legal mind, his fairness, and his ability to win respect and admiration from even the defense bar.
The University of Michigan graduate made his mark on many through 28 years with the prosecutor's office, often tackling the most complex and high-profile cases. Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth said Schieber had an intellect and desire to know more than simple case facts. Schieber had a thirst for knowing the psychology behind a criminal's actions and what drove them.
One of his cases involving a series of suspicious deaths at a nursing home was profiled on national television and in a book, "Forever and Five Days" and in 2002, he won a conviction in the murder of a notable construction contractor despite the lack of direct evidence, the unexpected death of a key witness, and an expensive defense team.
It was about halfway through the month-long trial in 2002 that Kent County Circuit Judge Donald Johnston realized what was happening to high-priced defense lawyers for the man suspected of killing the millionaire construction magnate in 1993.
"Before they knew it, he was systematically eviscerating them without forensic evidence and, frankly, without a very good case," Johnston said. "He was a tough guy, and he wasn't going to let obstacles get in the way of what he wanted to accomplish." It was vintage Schieber, a man who defied probability.
Additionally, he was recognized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and shortly after David's death, the Michigan chapter of MADD created the "David Schieber MADD Lifesaver Award" to be given each year to an attorney who exemplifies the ideals of MADD.
David showed determination in his personal life as well, making a remarkable recovery from a traumatic brain injury in 1991.
David also taught criminal justice at Grand Rapids Community College as an adjunct professor and was widely liked by his students, many who would go on to have successful careers themselves in law enforcement.
When he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2005, the local bar community rallied behind him as he underwent an experimental type of stem-cell transplant. He took the risk because he wanted to stay alive for his young daughters at the time and his wife. He fought hard for his own life and he fought hard in the courtroom for those who couldn't fight for themselves. A man with a heart for justice. David Schieber, a truly Notable Spartan.
Robert Jared Taylor Jr. was born on February 8, 1957, to Bob and Maizie Taylor. To his friends, he's known as Bobby or Bob, and many of his peers remembered him playing on the town's fields and courts. It was obvious that sports were going to play a big part of his life. While growing up, Bob was interested in football, basketball, baseball and tennis. It was soon apparent that basketball was his favorite. He went to a Wolverine basketball camp before both his 8th and 9th grade school years. While in high school he participated in baseball, football, tennis and basketball. During his sophomore basketball season, he was brought up to the varsity team and averaged ten points a game. The next year he led the conference in scoring with a 20.7 average and made the all-conference team. His senior year he really stepped it up and improved his average to 25.3 points a game which is still the second highest at Sparta for a single season. He graduated with 1021 points, which is third on the all-time list and highest at the time of his graduation. He also led the league in scoring again and finished with the most career points in the Tri-River League. He garnered all-league honors again and received all-state honorable mention from the UP. After high school, Bob continued playing at Grand Rapids Community College and then finished his career in the south at Arkansas Tech.
Soon after graduation, he moved away and started his coaching career in Boyne City. He coached for two years and moved on to the college level at Lake Superior State, coaching both men's (assistant) and women's, (head), one year doing both. After four years, Bob moved on to Oakland University. He coached eleven years as women's coach. Bob then switched to men's coaching and finished at Northwood University for twelve years to completing his career. Bob was the only coach in Michigan to coach both a men's and women's team in the national finals. He finished with over 500 college victories in 28 years of coaching. Many coaching honors were achieved over the years, including basketball coach of the year twice and GLIAC (Grand Valley's league) at least twice. He reached the final four once and the elite eight twice while often being ranked nationally. After his coaching career was over, Bob has worked with a youth basketball club in the Midland area.
Bob is married to his wife, Kristen, and they have a daughter, Ellie, who is a college student at Northwood. Another daughter, Maizie, is a senior in high school. Their son, RJ, is an eighth-grader. All of their children are playing on basketball teams and doing very well, following in their parent's footsteps. He is a new author of an upcoming book called Old Man in the Gym. The book helps coaches and parents prepare for their kids' varsity level sports in high school.
Sparta is certainly proud of Bob Taylor, who in many press articles refers to his hometown of Sparta. Bob and his family now reside in Sanford, which is in the Midland area.
Fred K. Thorne
On December 21st, 1939, in Sparta, MI, Kenneth and Marjorie Thorne welcomed their first child, Fredrick Kenneth Thorne. Fred was delivered with the help of a local mid-wife, and she not only delivered a son to the Thorne family, she delivered a lifelong member and promoter of the Sparta community.
With humble beginnings, Fred grew up in a small house on 15 Mile Rd with his 3 younger sisters whom he adored. As all kids do, Fred had big dreams, but he also quickly gained a sense of responsibility. Responsibility to family, community, and country.
As a young boy, Fred loved his family, comic books, his horse Ronie, Roy Rogers, and just having fun and being adventurous. In 1947, at the annual Labor Day rodeo at the age of 8, Fred and Ronie won a 1st place blue ribbon and five dollars. A framed picture of an 8-year-old Fred with Ronie, along with that blue ribbon and a five-dollar bill, hung in his house until the day that he passed away. A constant reminder to him that hard work, practice, and determination pays off.
A strong call to service had Fred enlisting in the Marine Reserves at the age of 16, while continuing to attend Sparta Schools and even having to attend summer school before he graduated in 1958. On November 10, 1961, Fred had the honor of being named Marine Reservist of the year.
In a letter Fred reminisced of his Marine of the Year award, "I had the high privilege of being a small part of history while on a classified 'recon' mission in February of 1962 when I was ordered back from my position to take a phone call. Upon answering the field phone, I found myself speaking to someone who told me that the only man-made object he could see at the time was the Great Wall of China. Only then did I fully realize I was speaking to John Glenn as he circled the earth in 'Freedom Seven'… calling to congratulate me on being selected as Marine of the Year."
As a young man, Fred continued his quest to serve his community as he was elected to the Sparta Village Council in the 60’s and joined the Jaycees. As a member of the Jaycees, Fred was awarded Jaycee of the Year, 1964-1965, and served as Jaycee president in 1966. Fred joined the Lions Club and was named Lion of the Year, 1978-1979. Fred also received a Grand Rapids Police Certificate of Recognition on September 6, 1980, for chasing down and holding a purse snatcher until police could arrive.
Fred loved children and had 4 of his own, Annette, Christine, Kenneth, and James. Shortly after his youngest was born, Fred truly found his calling when he was elected to the Sparta School Board in 1973.
During his 25-year tenure on the Sparta School Board, Fred was instrumental in the creation The Sparta Education Foundation as well as the acquisition of the land for the current high school and athletic facilities. Fred was humbled when his community recognized him for his service on December 7th, 2013, with a plaque.
In 1997, Fred was elected to the Kent ISD (Intermediate School Districts) Board where he continued to serve until his death in 2017. During his 20-year tenure, Fred was proud to be a part of several Kent ISD initiatives including: building the new Kent Education Center Beltline High School for emotionally impaired students and the Pine Grove Learning Center, the addition of an aviation program at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, the Health Sciences Early College Academy at the Cook DeVos Center for Health Sciences, extended the Culinary Arts Program, and Health Career Diagnostic and Therapeutic Educational Programming at the Downtown Market.
In addition, as a member of the Kent ISD Board, Fred supported the creation of Kent Innovation High, a project-based laboratory school, and the MySchool@Kent and SuccessLink online programs.
Ultimately, Fred's commitment to community was driven by his desire to provide young people with opportunities to help them achieve success in life. Fred is survived by his wife of 23 years, Barbara, four children, three stepsons, 13 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, and thousands of students from Sparta and all the Kent ISD schools.
Our History Center is conveniently located at 71 North Union Street in downtown Sparta. Please join us for coffee and lively conversation on Monday mornings. Visits to the History Center can also be scheduled by appointment, for your convenience.
We do not receive mail at the History Center, instead, please use our mailing address, which is:
attn: Sparta Township Historical Commission
160 E. Division St.
Sparta MI 49345.
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For other inquiries, the Sparta Township Historical Commission can be reached by phone at: (616)606-0765 or via email at the following address: