Art Sparks is accustomed to holding leadership roles, but being honored for his service doesn’t happen every day. That changed when he was honored June 20 by receiving the Jimmy Daniel Make-A-Difference WestStar Leadership Alumni Award during the program’s graduation celebration for its 2023 class at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
The graduation reception, dinner and ceremony were held in the Boling University Center’s Duncan Ballroom and were attended by the graduating WestStar class, program alumni and other guests.
Selected by the WestStar board of trustees, the award is named for the late Jimmy Daniel of McNairy County, a 1990 WestStar graduate, founding WestStar board of trustee member and a West Tennessee field representative for Gov. Don Sundquist. This is the 25th year for the award to be presented.
“Well people who know me know that I’m seldom speechless, but I was for a second there – speechless,” Sparks said following the event’s conclusion. “I can’t tell you what a great honor it is to be recognized, and I can’t tell you what a great organization the WestStar (Leadership Program) is, which is a function of UT Martin, and I think most people that know me know how I care for UT Martin and West Tennessee.”
Sparks is a partner at Alexander Thompson Arnold PLLC, in Union City, where he has worked for 42 years. He is a 2016 WestStar graduate and has served two three-year terms on the program’s board of trustees. The 1976 UT Martin graduate remains involved as an alumnus and currently serves as the first and only chair of the university’s advisory board. He is also CEO of the Miss Tennessee Volunteer Pageant.
Sparks used the unexpected award presentation to remind those attending the importance of giving back to others.
“I said when I accepted the award that I was the luckiest guy in the world because I was raised in West Tennessee and Tennessee and the United States of America,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough to be in great communities. I’ve been associated with UT Martin. … I don’t think I’ll ever be able to, but if everyone would give back all the blessings that they have received in life to other folks, this country would be in a lot better shape.”
Sparks is an advocate for leadership development and said the 2023 WestStar class holds the distinction of being the first to complete the program as Ford’s BlueOval City takes shape in Haywood County. Leaders have important roles as the innovative facility brings significant changes to the region.
“BlueOval City is going to affect West Tennessee in such a way that 30 years from now, if we are not careful, we will not recognize West Tennessee,” Sparks said. “This group of leaders along with the other alumni with WestStar, we need to be prepared to keep what we understand and appreciate about West Tennessee even while it is growing because it’s going to grow as a result of BlueOval City.”
Sparks urges others to consider applying for the program and likes to remind WestStar graduates that completing the program is not the end of the experience.
“It is one of the best things that I’ve ever done, and honestly, when I graduated from WestStar much like I did as these people did tonight, I try to tell them, ‘That’s only the start,’” he said. “They have just now started in WestStar because the relationships that they have garnered through this process will be there forever and ever.
“ … It’s a great organization that knows no county lines or city lines. We are WestStar and we’re for the betterment of West Tennessee, period.”
Learn more about WestStar at www.utm.edu/weststar or call 731-881-7298.