Alice Sparks, a life member of Prichard Committee, passes away at age 86 | Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Alice Sparks, a life member of Prichard Committee, passes away at age 86

Alice Sparks, a life member of Prichard Committee, passes away at age 86

Alice Sparks of Fort Mitchell, a longtime member of the Prichard Committee and dedicated advocate for public education in Kentucky, died Thursday, Sept. 24 after being hospitalized with COVID-19. She was 86.

She built a reputation as a dedicated community volunteer, serving and earning recognition from groups including Northern Kentucky University, the Northern Kentucky Fund of Greater Cincinnati Foundation, WCET public television, the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Education was her chief civic interest.

Sparks served as legislative chair for the Kentucky PTA from 1988-93. In 1992, she was appointed to the Northern Kentucky University board of regents and, two years later, became the first woman to chair a Kentucky public university board. She later served on the boards of Thomas More College and the University of Kentucky. In 2018, NKU recognized her with an honorary doctorate in education.

In a 1995 interview with the Kentucky Enquirer when the newspaper honored her as its Woman of the Year, Sparks hailed the gains achieved through the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. “I like all of KERA,” she said. “I can see the results. There are now more opportunities for parental involvement in the schools than ever before.”

Sparks joined the Prichard Committee in 1995 and was active from that time forward, being named a Life Member in 2019.

“She was front-and-center in K-12 equity and reform as well as the Postsecondary Reform Act of 1997,” said James Votruba, president emeritus of NKU and a Prichard Committee member. “She recognized that, for Kentucky and its citizens to thrive going forward, educational excellence had to be the foundation. She was a passionate voice who never hesitated to enlist political, business, and civic officials to lead on behalf of excellence across the full breadth of the education continuum. She loved Kentucky and devoted her life to supporting a bright future for all.  Her voice is now silent, but her legacy will live on for generations.”

Sparks chaired the search committee that selected Votruba. Current NKU President Ashish Vaidya called Sparks a trailblazer and pillar of the community in sharing news of Sparks’ death.

“When Alice spoke, everyone listened,” added Brigitte Blom Ramsey, President and CEO of the Prichard Committee. “You knew Alice was passionate and committed to moving Kentucky forward, with education at the core. She will be mightily missed.”

Prichard Committee member Mike Hammons of Park Hills called Sparks a determined and engaging leader. “She devoted her life to making sure all students had access to the best in scholarship and education,” Hammons said. “She invited us all to join the effort and always made it more fun and more productive to be on her team.”

Sparks’ involvement in politics and public issues began in the 1950s when she became an intern to first lady Mildred Chandler during the second term of Gov. Albert “Happy” Chandler. Those experiences and contacts led to political involvement in Northern Kentucky.

Beyond civic involvement, Sparks was founder, president and chief executive officer of SSK Company Communities, a real estate company specializing in manufactured home communities. She is survived by a son and daughter and two grandchildren.

In a 2012 interview with Kentucky Forward, an online newspaper, Sparks said that dedication and attention to details helped her build influence and make a difference in public roles. “After a while, when you do a thorough, good job with what you say you are going to do, it elevates you,” she said, offering advice to others interested in community causes: “Choose wisely,” Sparks said. “Go on boards of causes you believe in and participate fully. For me, it’s educational issues. … Decide on your passion, pursue it, and do your best with every detail.”

Ramsey said that Sparks’ contributions draw attention to the need for citizens to be engaged in community issues like supporting education and drawing attention to priorities for investment and improvement.

“As we lose early members of Committee, I’m continually struck by the need for the next generation to step up with as much resolve and urgency as the first,” Ramsey said. “The founding members of the Prichard Committee led us this far. It is now up to us to continue down the path with even greater urgency.”

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The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence is an independent, nonpartisan, citizen-led organization working to improve education in Kentucky – early childhood through postsecondary.

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