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Colonel William A. Sparkman Jr. Fund

picture of Colonel SparkmanIn June of 2004, Colonel Sparkman generously contributed a fully funded scholarship program to assist physics majors in achieving their educational goals.  To date, this is the largest scholarship donation to the physics department. 

It would be hard to find someone who can illustrate the value of an A&M-Commerce physics degree better than Col. William A. Sparkman, Jr. USMCR (ret.).

Col. Sparkman not only retired in 1978 after a 20-year tenure as a physics professor at the university, he also earned a physics and math degree here that would aid him in earning a place in Marine Corps history.

During World War II, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Marine Corps was looking for experts to help bring their radar technology up to par. Col. Sparkman, who at the time had both a bachelor’s degree in math and physics and a knack for electronics, received a direct commission as a Second Lieutenant into the Corps without completing Officer Training School. He is one of only 23 in the Corps’ history to receive such a commission with no prior training.

After joining the Corps, Col. Sparkman left for Harvard University to participate in weeks of intense training on radar technology. After additional training in Florida, Col. Sparkman was classified as a Volunteer Specialist Communications Radar Technician and trained others in the use of radar at the Marine Corps Electronics School in Cherry Point, N.C., and at the Navy Electronics School in Vero Beach, Florida.

After the end of WWII, Col. Sparkman returned to his wife, Rae, and their two children, Betty and Billy, in Commerce. With the GI Bill, he returned to school and earned a master’s degree from the university.  With the outbreak of the Korean War, Col. Sparkman again answered his country’s call and returned to active duty until that conflict ended.  He then returned to Commerce to teach at the university.

Mr. Sparkman taught printing until the physics department needed extra faculty after the Russians launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. While teaching in the physics department, he earned a second master’s degree and completed coursework toward his doctorate.

Col. Sparkman also worked directly with the Navy Electronics School to obtain surplus electronic equipment to use in his classroom. He taught atomic physics, nuclear physics, and electricity and magnetism.

Including his service as director of the print shop, Col. Sparkman worked at the university for 30 years before he retired.  He has been a Commerce resident for eighty-three years, having moved to Commerce when he was three years old.

In addition to the scholarship in physics, Col. Sparkman has also set up two endowed scholarships in elementary education: the Betty Elaine Sparkman Shepherd and Rae Sawyer Sparkman Endowed Scholarships.

Picture of the Sparkman family

Shown in the picture is Mr. and Mrs. Sparkman with their children Betty and Billy

Colonel Sparkman lost his daughter, Betty, to cancer in 1999. His wife, Rae, died in February of 2004.

Former students and friends of the Sparkman family may wish to show their appreciation of Colonel Sparkman by making contributions to this fund by contacting the physics department or the foundation office at A&M-Commerce.