Jay Smith Sparks, 87, achieved his longtime dream of flying

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Jay Smith Sparks Sr.
Jay Smith Sparks Sr.

Jay Smith Sparks Sr., 87, of Wilmington, died Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016 at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

He was born on July 1, 1928 in Clairton, Pennsylvania, the son of the late James Turnbull Sparks and Anna Penn Sparks.

During World War II, Jay worked at U.S. Steel, tending coke ovens, and at age 17 joined the US Marine Corps, being stationed in Camp Lejeune, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean ports of call. Jay’s ambition was to become a Marine aviator but when the Marine Corps didn’t cooperate he went back to civilian life to pursue his dream of flying.

Back in Pittsburgh, he began taking flying instructions and working on sternwheeler steamboats. After moving to Alaska in 1958 and working for the CAA and FAA as well as flying hunters and miners around the back country, Jay was hired by the US Army to be a flight instructor. He taught wing and helicopter aviation to the Special Forces stationed at Ft. Bragg and then became Aviation Safety Officer for the entire base. Jay then went to Wheeler AFB in Hawaii in the same capacity before he put himself into retirement by establishing an accident rate of zero.

In retirement, Jay enjoyed taking art classes and soon became a ceramicist. He founded Hearts for Jesus, a worldwide ministry that distributes beautiful ceramic heart-shaped magnets and lapel pins.

Surviving are his wife, Leona “Lee” Sparks; daughters, Linda Herring (Robbie), Karen Spear (Steve) and Pamela Lloyd and their mother, Virginia Mae Aldridge; one brother, David Sparks; and three grandchildren, Robert Jay Herring, Ana Malia Spear and Makala Scott Spear. Also remembered is one sister, Donna Danknich, who preceded him in death.

A memorial service will be celebrated at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 30, at Winter Park Baptist Church, with the Rev. Mark Teachey officiating.

Memorials may be made to Winter Park Baptist Church or the Disabled American Veterans.

Please leave online condolences for the family at Andrews Mortuary.

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