Eugene Wallace Sparks, Jr., went by the nickname of Sonny. He was born in Walla Walla, Washington, on Jan. 22, 1938. He died on his ranch in Tracy, California, on April 15, 2020, at the age of 82. He probably thought it was fitting and pretty funny to die on Tax Day. He certainly complained about paying them every year!
He was preceded in death by his parents, Freda Mohar and Eugene Sparks Sr., and his brother Chuck. He was also preceded in death by his wife, Shirley, and two infant children, Gary Anthony and Karen Marie.
Dad and Mom met in middle school in San Lorenzo, California. They dated most of that time. Just before Christmas break of Eugene’s sophomore year in high school, his mother was called in to meet with the principal and was told that the school would be better off without Dad and to not send him back in January. He turned 17 a month later and his mother signed the papers so he could join the Navy. He spent several years on the aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard and loved his time and travels with the Navy.
He worked at quite a few different jobs until he settled into driving a truck and became an owner-operator. He also began to raise beef cattle. Dad and Mom were always involved in their daughters’ 4-H and FFA endeavors. Janice showed steers and Debbie showed steers and lambs at the Alameda County Fair.
In the late 1970s, they bought some ranchland. It was an empty piece of property when they bought it. They built the corrals and pole barn first. Then they had a house moved up there and, finally, were able to live on their own ranch. They raised cattle and began raising squab. Dad retired from trucking in 2000 and focused on the cattle and squab, while Mom continued to work for a bit longer. Debbie’s older kids remember finding baby mice and snakes in the squab pens and riding the 4-wheeler around the ranch.
In 2004, Mom died after a yearlong battle with breast cancer. Dad could not face raising the squab on his own so the pens and birds were sold soon after. He then sold the cattle and rented his ground out to other cattlemen.
Dad decided he needed something to do, so he moved a modular house onto the ranch and worked on it. Once it was ready, he rented it out. He added a second modular house in 2014 or so. When it was ready, he rented it to a couple with a young daughter. Having Jimmy, Melanie and Kaylee move in was great all the way around. They got to live on a ranch and bring their horses. In return, Jimmy has taken on helping around the ranch, helping dad when he needed, and they have all been there for us. We were also lucky the last go-round on the first house and have some terrific people in there. Joe, Jennifer, Dalton and Amelia were very helpful and kind to Dad. On Easter Sunday this year, they decided to have an Easter egg hunt in Dad’s backyard so he could watch the kids hunting eggs.
This past year has been rough on all of us. Dad was in and out of the hospital last spring and summer. When he was brought home from the hospital for the last time, all he wanted was to come home to die on the ranch. The doctors expected he would survive three to four weeks, maybe up to two months. He decided he wasn’t going to do anything on the doctors’ timetable. So, with the help of his wonderful caregivers, he survived eight months. During that time, they went to Starbucks, West Valley Mall, Golden Corral and to check out the houses in Tracy Hills. We took him to Black Oak casino.
His caregivers were fantastic. We cannot thank Pam, AJ, Gina, Arnel, Rosemarie, Mark, Aileen and Hurley enough for their care. Dad’s hospice nurse, Khanh, was fantastic, as was everyone we dealt with at Vitas Hospice. Towards the end, Dad talked to Mom more and more as he went to sleep. We like to think she was helping ease his way to her.
He is survived by his daughters, Janice (Jeff) Gee of Gilmer, Texas, and Debbie (Robert) Leal of Escalon, California. He had seven grandchildren, Tawny Bewley, Bo (Ginger) Gee and Keith (Jenny) Gee of Texas, and Rachel (Noah) Russell, Robert Jr., Sarah and Frank Leal, all of California. He is also survived by eight great-grandchildren, Rheanna, Baylee, Bryce, Morgan, Owen, Hunter, Kooper and Karter, all of Texas.
He will be missed by his sisters, Donna and Sid Phelps and Cheryl Mohar, and by his brother- and sister-in-law, Doug and Diane Clouse. His nieces and nephews will miss him greatly. They all wanted to be a cowboy or a truck driver because of “Uncle Sonny.” He will also be missed by his special friend, Inger Reynolds.
A memorial service is planned for sometime this summer. Dad was interred in the Tracy Public Cemetery with Mom, Gary and Karen.