AVILLA — Joyce Sparks is a busy woman.
She officially retired a few years ago from Sherwin-Williams Paint Store in Benton but continues to work there part time. She also works in her garden, tends to her bees, serves as treasurer at Pleasant Hill Methodist Church, helps with her grandchildren and volunteers as a member of the Saline County Master Gardeners.
It’s her work with the Master Gardeners that has earned Sparks a special recognition. She is the 2017 Saline County Master Gardener of the Year.
“I think it’s fantastic,” she said when asked how she felt about the recent honor, “but I don’t know what I did to deserve it.”
Ron Matlock, agent and staff chairman of the Saline County Cooperative Extension Service and adviser to the local Master Gardeners, said Sparks reported 243 volunteer hours worked in 2016.
“Joyce is the project leader at Saline Memorial Hospice, but she also puts a lot of time into the Master Gardener plant brigade, which is a group of Master Gardeners who propagate plants for the annual plant sale,” Matlock said. “She is a hard worker.”
Sparks said she “helps out here and there.”
“My main project is the flowerbeds at Saline Memorial Hospice in Bryant, but when other Master Gardeners need help on a project, they often call me. If I’m off from my job at Sherwin-Williams, then I’m off to work on the project,” Sparks said.
“That’s how I got so many hours last year,” she said, laughing. “And it seems like that’s where I’m headed again this year.”
Sparks joined the Saline County Master Gardeners five years ago.
“I always wanted to be a Master Gardener, but I always worked,” she said. “When I retired, I took the course, but then I went back to work part time. So now I work with the Master Gardeners when I can; I just hang out with them. It’s good therapy for me.”
Sparks grew up in Avilla, a daughter of the late Ruel and Dorothy Creasey, and attended Benton High School.
“I did not graduate,” she said. “I quit and got married. I went on to get my GED and did attend college for about a year.”
Now divorced, Sparks has one son, Phillip Sparks, who lives in Benton. She also has three granddaughters — Ashley, 18, who is a senior at Bryant High School; Macy, 12, who attends school in Benton; and Charlee, 2.
“They are all very smart,” she said. “Ashley plays soccer, so I go to her games all the time.”
Sparks lives on the family farm in Avilla.
“My dad had a garden every year,” she said. “I have a small garden. I have raised beds and try to keep the deer from eating what I grow. I have blackberries, blueberries and lots of bees.
“I don’t have a favorite plant or flower,” she said. “I like them all.
“I especially like those that are self-sustained. I like the natural things, the ones that come back every year and take care of themselves. I especially like plants that attract bees and butterflies.”
Sparks worked at the Master Gardeners’ recent plant sale, which she said “looked the best it has in a while.”
“The first one I attended five years ago was the prettiest I had ever seen,” she said. “This year was just about as pretty. We had a lot of good plants.”
Matlock said the Saline County Master Gardeners returned 5,341 hours of service work in 2016 through community beautification and service projects.
“The Saline County Master Gardeners are 83 members strong,” he said. “Master Gardeners have 23 sanctioned projects they can work on.”
For more information on the Saline County Master Gardeners, call the Saline County Cooperative Extension Service office at (501) 303-5672. The Cooperative Extension Service is a program of the University of Arkansas System, Division of Agriculture.