Scholarship remembers Don “Jerry” Sparks
A new scholarship for students at Lamar University honors the late Don “Jerry” Sparks, a key figure in the Southeast Texas labor community who passed away June 1. Sparks was leader of the United Steel Workers Local 13-423 that represents the majority of the hourly workers at Motiva’s Port Arthur Refinery.
A $100,000 endowment, a gift of Walter Umphrey of Beaumont, will generate funds for an annual scholarship to be awarded to a student attending Lamar University who is a member or family member of USW local 13-423. The Motiva Workmans Committee will select scholarship recipients. “We’re very grateful for the love and the generosity shown by all our friends especially Walter and Sheila Umphrey,” said Doris Sparks, Jerry’s wife of 43 years, at the Tuesday morning announcement.
“This $100,000 endowment is a show of extreme kindness from our dear friends. My heart is humbled and filled with great thankfulness that you chose to honor Jerry in this way.”
”This scholarship recognizes the leadership Jerry Sparks showed throughout his life,” said James Simmons, president of Lamar University. “It will help future generations fulfill the dream of higher education and realize the benefits it can bring. It is a great tribute to a man who gave so much to serve others in Southeast Texas and beyond.”
“Our law firm was built on representing the members of this union,” said Walter Umphrey. “I’m a Port Arthur native and I can remember back when we had 10,000 or 12,000 members out here. Jerry was a great guy, a great union member and a great friend. We feel privileged to give back.”
Sparks was a member of Faith Tabernacle Pentecostal Church and a graduate of Port Neches Groves High School. He served his country in the US Navy, and then began a 39-year career with the workforce at Motiva (Texaco/Star Enterprise). He served as the Workmen’s Committee chairman from 1987 until 2006 as well as vice president and president of Texaco Nationwide Council.
A trustee on the executive board of the OCAW District 4 Council and Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Local 4-23 as well as a trustee on the executive board of the Sabine Area Central Council. He was also the president USW Local 13-423 from 2003 and commissioner on Drainage District Pct 7 from 1997.
“He had an uncanny ability to tell the difference between struggle and compromise,” said USW International Vice President Gary Beevers.
“He knew that justice came from struggle, but he also knew that there was a time for compromise. Most people in this community don’t realize that there would probably be one less refinery in this area were it not for Jerry. He did a lot to see to it that the community continued to be viable and that the refineries continued to be viable. He will sorely be missed.”
“I personally has seen first hand all the dedication and the long hours he put in to help others without taking anything for himself,” Sparks said. “We consider this a great tribute to a real trooper and a trooper he was to the very end.”