Archive for Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Lieutenant honored for dedication

Tonganoxie man named Leavenworth County Officer of the Year

August 16, 2006

After taking a test in college to determine what his interests were for a career, it became clear to Lt. Francis P. "Pat" Sparks that he was destined for law enforcement.

With a few initial reservations from his wife, Cheryl, Sparks took the civil service test and on Oct. 16, 1977, began his career at the Leavenworth County sheriff's department.

Now, nearly 30 years later, Sparks was named the Leavenworth County Officer of the Year, an honor bestowed by organizations in Leavenworth.

Sparks said he felt a sense of shock and surprise when he found out he had won.

"I didn't think that I would really get anything like that," he said.

His wife, who for the first time this year decided not to attend the annual Leavenworth County Law Enforcement Awards ceremony, also said the award was unexpected.

"I was surprised but thought it was well-deserved," she said.

The Leavenworth County Law Enforcement Committee determines the winner of the award each year.

Charley Shoemaker, chairman of the committee, said that when selecting an officer, he looked at more than just what they may have done in one year's time.

In the case of Sparks, Shoemaker said the committee decided he deserved the award because he had been with the department for many years. And, he had received many awards and promotions throughout his career.

"He just goes out of his way, and that's what we look for," Shoemaker said. "It's not just doing the job they're paid for, it's going above and beyond."

Dedication to the job

Sparks started his career in the sheriff's office as a dispatcher and jailer in 1977. Later, in 1978, he moved on to the law enforcement academy patrol division, the detective division in 1983 and back to the patrol division in 1991. In 1996, he took a promotion and went back to the jail division before his final return to the patrol division in 2005.

This past June, Sparks became lieutenant of professional standards. He now handles the civil service paperwork, personnel matters, and is involved with the department's training program.

Sparks said the best part of his job is helping people. He said he also liked the fact that each day provides him with a new challenge.

"It's not boring," he said. "It's something different every day. It's generally not an eight-to-four job. If something happens right before it's time to go home and you happen to get the call, you pretty much stay with it as long as you have to complete it."

Sheriff David Zoellner has seen that dedication in Sparks and said the promotions he had received throughout his career made it obvious that Sparks had knowledge and ability.

"He's a good officer," Zoellner said. "He's respected by his peers and he's considered a valued employee."

Cheryl also agreed that her husband had shown devotion and dedication to his job.

"He's just a good person," Cheryl said. "He takes his job seriously and tried to do the best he can and has a lot of good common sense. He's a very honest person."

But when is comes to his home life, Cheryl said his work was not as important as time with his family.

"When he comes home we don't just talk a lot of shop," she said. "We leave work at work."

Home life

The couple, both born and raised in Tonganoxie, went to school together since the first grade. They were married in 1970 and as Cheryl said, it's been "36 wonderful years."

"Everyone says we're like the 'Leave it to Beaver' family," she joked. "It's not necessarily that wonderful, but we've had a good marriage. Maybe it's because he closes one ear and says, 'Yes, yes, honey I'll do that.'"

They have three grown children: Ryan, 35, Jason, 29, and Chad, 28. They also have three grandchildren and another on the way.

In addition to time with the family, Sparks said he works on his farm. He said he liked taking care of his cattle and horses and keeping up with the yard work.

The lieutenant said he planned to retire from the Leavenworth County sheriff's office in 2008. After that, he said, he planned to spend his time catching up on work around the farm.

If he had to describe himself to someone, Sparks would say he is outgoing and likes to have fun.

"I'm not really as grumpy as I look," he joked.

Cheryl agreed and added that he was a caring, level-headed person who, she thought, was respected for his honesty and efforts.

"If you truly know Pat, you know he's a good person and he's honest," she said. "He'll tell it like it is."

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