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Unfortunate Passing of TVFF Founder Joe Sparks

December 20, 2022 4:22 PM | Mark Spruiell (Administrator)

Joseph T. "Joe" Sparks... Not an ordinary Joe!

October 27, 1926 to November 26, 2022

Pleasanton / Fort Bragg

Joe started his life in Chicago, Illinois on October 27, 1926, born to parents Joseph Wesley Sparks and Mary Margaret O’Brien Sparks. Joe left his high school in Hammond, Indiana very early in his senior year as he was accepted into the US Army’s Specialized Training Program.

This program was established to identify, train, and educate academically talented enlisted men, extraordinary Joe. He had a choice of returning home after completing his training in 1946 or re-enlisting for one more year. He chose to re-enlist to allow those soldiers who had seen combat a chance to return home. Joe was then dispatched to Northern Germany. Having studied German in high school to keep from having to take Latin, he was a natural to serve in an Intelligence Unit searching out underground Nazi contingents.

After returning home, Joe attended the University of California at Berkeley where he graduated in 1950 with his B.A. degree. This B.A. was not enough for “this” Joe, so he continued his education in the field of Physics earning a PhD at the University of Kansas in 1956.

After working a year for Dupont in Delaware, Joe accepted a position at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory doing what he loved as a physicist for 20 years.

Joe had a great passion for fly fishing and taught himself by reading books on the subject, nothing ordinary there and not easy. He enjoyed it so much that he wanted to share his hobby with others, so he started the Livermore Flyfishing Club in the 1960’s. The club today is called the Tri-Valley Flyfishers. He also authored a column in the Livermore Herald called “The Barbless Hook” for many years.

In 1972 Joe met the love of his life, Ruth Johnson on a blind date…then within months of that first meeting they were married on the SS Oronsay at Pier 35 in San Francisco.

After the celebration the guests left the ship and Joe and Ruth cruised on their honeymoon.

A year later they started a travel agency called “Travel Key” in Castro Valley which became very successful, having received many awards throughout the years including “The Best of the Bay Area”. During this busy time in their lives, they helped raise two of their grandsons and loved becoming “gray-haired soccer parents”. Very Extraordinary!

Joe retired in 1976 from the Livermore Laboratory to become the CFO of Travel Key. Then in 1996 it was time to fully retire and move to Fort Bragg, a place they loved for its beauty and climate. They built their dream home in the redwoods where they would reside for over 26 years. They made many wonderful friends there and volunteered for numerous charitable and service organizations.

The one that was near and dear to Joe’s heart was his time spent as a Mendocino Rotarian serving as the first advisor to the high school’s Interact Club. He loved helping so many great kids. He was always eager to see them and hear their stories after they graduated.

After celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in July, Joe and Ruth broke a lot of hearts in their beloved Fort Bragg by moving in October to Rocklin, California to be closer to family.

In less than two short months Joe passed away at 96 years of age on November 26, 2022, leaving behind his wife Ruth, and two daughters from his first marriage, Ginger Avila and Lisa Wilson. He was the proud father of three stepsons, Gary, Greg, and Grant Amaral. He was also the loving grandfather to Kerry and David Avila; Danny White (deceased), Ryan White, Jay Sparks, and Cameron Wilson; Ali Amaral Barta, Austin, Wyatt, McKenzie Amaral; Lauren and Rachel Amaral. Joe was also a great grandfather of nine. He was definitely not an “Ordinary Joe”! We all miss you and will love you forever!

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