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Robert Dean Sparks, MD, FACP, MACP

Published: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 11:22 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 11:56 a.m. CDT

Dr. Robert Dean Sparks of El Dorado Hills, Calif., died Monday, July 1, 2014, in Marshall Hospital, Placerville, Calif. Dr. Sparks had been ill since the first of March. His death was caused by lung disease and complications of abdominal cancer.

Dr. Sparks was born May 6, 1932, in Newton. He is the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Albert John Sparks (Josephine Kleinendorst). He grew up in Newton, graduating from Newton High School in 1950. He received his BA degree and MD degree (1957) from the University of Iowa. He completed his graduate medical education at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, and Tulane University School of Medicine where he specialized in internal medicine and gastroenterology. He joined the faculty of Tulane University School of Medicine and served as the Dean (1969-72). Dr. Sparks was one of the youngest deans of an accredited U.S. medical school. Dr. Sparks was Chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, and Vice President of the University of Nebraska System (1972 -1976).

In 1976, Dr. Sparks joined the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, where he ultimately became President and a trustee of that Foundation (1982-1988). He was elected to membership in the prestigious Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1988. International activities include being a Fellow of the U.S.-China Educational Institute (now Wildflowers Institute) and being a member of the five-physician U.S. Delegation for medical exchanges with the U.S.S.R. under the sponsorship of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.S.S.R. Academy of Medical Sciences in 1988. Dr. Sparks was elected to the Board of Directors of Syntex Corporation, a multinational pharmaceutical company, in December 1987. He later served as that Corporation’s Vice-President for Product Safety and Compliance (1991-93). He was the first President and CEO of the California Medical Association Foundation (CMAF) from 1995 to 1998, and was a Senior Associate of the CMAF. 

Dr. Sparks was a Fellow and Master of the American College of Physicians and a member of Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society at Tulane University School of Medicine.  He received an honorary Doctor of Humanitarian Service Degree from Creighton University, Omaha, Neb., 1978.  The University of Iowa has honored Dr. Sparks twice. He was designated a Distinguished Alumnus for Achievement by the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 1998, and honored by the University’s Alumni Association by being presented its 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award for Achievement.

In 1997, Dr. Sparks was elected a Director of the Newton Community Educational Foundation Board of Trustees. In this position he was instrumental in establishing the Newton High School Alumni Endowment Fund. In June 2014, he was inducted into the Newton High School Hall of Fame.

He has written articles and spoken widely in the fields of internal medicine, gastroenterology, alcohol and drug addictions, health planning and policy, leadership development, philanthropy and education.

In his retirement, Dr. Sparks was appointed to the Community Advisory Committee of the TASER Foundation (2005-2010) and was elected to its Board of Directors as Chairperson in 2006. He was elected to serve two terms (2009-2015) on the Board of Directors of KVIE, a PBS member television station in Sacramento, Calif.

Survivors include Dr. Gwynn C. Akin, with whom he has shared his life and love for more than 22 years; his brother, Ronald Sparks (Ruth) of Phoenix, Ariz.; an uncle, Bernard “Bob” Kleinendorst (Dorothy) of Newton; a nephew, Rodney Sparks (Julie) of Iowa City; a niece, Mrs. Rick Hawkins (Ruby) of Rock Springs, Wyo.; and several cousins, including Kenneth Sparks (Marjorie) of Roseville. His three children, who reside in Illinois, also survive him, Steven Sparks (Lee), Mrs. Ann Feldman (John), and Dr. John Sparks. 

Dr. Robert Sparks has two stepdaughters, Mrs. Carrie Parham (Mark) of El Dorado Hills, Calif., and Mrs. Margaret Guilbault (Richard) of Phoenix, Ariz. He has five grandchildren; and four step-grandchildren. 

Dr. Sparks took pleasure in watching Iowa football, learning from reading non-fiction, researching his family tree, and traveling all over the world with Dr. Akin. They traveled annually to dine at his adored Antoine’s Restaurant in New Orleans. His favorite city was Florence, Italy, and his annual trips to Hawaii with his family held a special place in his heart.

It was Dr. Sparks’ wish to be buried in his hometown of Newton. Plans are evolving, and a celebration of his life will be held several months from now at the First United Methodist Church in Newton. He will be laid to rest at Newton Memorial Park Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to The Newton Community Educational Foundation, and designated for the “Class of 1950 Endowment Fund”. Those may be mailed to: NCEF, Box 623, Newton IA 50208.

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