Ad Spot

Former FCT owner, publisher passes away

Former Franklin County Times owner and Alabama Press Association president Claude E. Sparks, 89, passed away Sept. 19 at his home in Huntsville.

Sparks is survived by his wife of 66 years, Anne Weldy Sparks; daughter, Amy Sparks Epps (Bruce) of Huntsville; son, Thomas Weldy Sparks of Birmingham; two granddaughters, Dr. Sarah Grace Epps and Emily Anne Epps; and daughter-in-law, Lisa Sparks of Hazel Green. He was preceded in death by his beloved son, Joseph Andrew Sparks.

“He was a good man, a good husband, a good father,” daughter Amy Epps said.

Sparks was born Feb. 16, 1929, in Imboden, Ark., to the late Lucy and Claude E. Sparks Sr.

He graduated from the University of Missouri with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. His lifelong career was in the newspaper business, which started with delivering newspapers for the Arkansas Gazette in Imboden and working at the Jonesboro Sun in Jonesboro. Post-college, he worked for several newspapers in Arkansas and Texas before moving to Russellville in 1953 to establish The Franklin Citizen along with Arthur F. Slaton of Moulton.

“He loved being in business in Russellville and raising his family there,” Epps said.

When Sparks moved to Russellville, he did not know he was returning to the home of his ancestors, according to the Sparks Family Association website. He knew his great-grandfather was born near Florence, but no one in his family had maintained a family record. In 1964 he learned of the Sparks Family Association, which he joined and soon discovered that he was actually living within five miles of the spot where his great-great-great-grandparents John and Mollie Sparks were buried.

“We’ve always claimed Russellville as our home. We have many fond memories there,” Epps said.

Sparks was a committed journalist, dedicated to bringing superior news coverage to Franklin County. Dec. 24, 1953, following his purchase of the Franklin County Times, he published an editorial that read, “It is our earnest desire to serve you to a greater degree in the next and succeeding years. We serve you honestly to the best of our abilities. We are appreciative of your patronage, whether you are a reader, a subscriber, an advertiser or a resident. Plans are now being made for acquisition of modern machinery and equipment to serve you better in the coming years. These changes will be made as rapidly as possible.”

Local State Farm agent Lanny Norris grew up during the time Sparks was publisher of the Franklin County times.

“He did more than just run the paper. He cared about the community and was very involved,” Norris said.

At Epps’ request, Norris delivered Sparks’ graveside service in Russellville.

“It blew me away when Amy called and asked me to do it. It was an honor,” Norris said.

In 1965 Sparks purchased Slaton’s interest in the newspaper and remained the publisher until 1978, when he sold the business to James B. Boone Jr. The Times is owned by Boone Newspapers Inc., to this day.

“Claude Sparks was a great man by any measure, among them his accomplishments as a reporter, editor and publisher, businessman, citizen and family man. He had the courage to match his convictions, and at times that was not easy. His understanding of people and his love for Russellville and Franklin County were among his many outstanding traits,” said James B. Boone Jr., chairman of the board of Boone Newspapers and a former publisher of The Tuscaloosa News.  “Claude set high standards for us all, and he was a man I admired and respected over many years. One hurts in the loss to a community of a friend like Claude Sparks.”

Franklin County native Donna Corbell said she remembers her time working for Sparks fondly. Her first job in high school and after high school was at the Franklin County Times.

“He had a high work ethic and great integrity,” Corbell said.

Sparks served as the president of the Alabama Press Association in 1976; served as chairman of a committee to pass an ad valorem tax to build a new high school for Russellville; served on a three-man committee to settle a violent strike at a Russellville apparel plant, which saved 300 jobs and $3.5 million payroll for Russellville; and received a community service award from the Alabama Press Association as a result.

“Claude Sparks made a significant impact on the newspaper industry in Alabama during his career at the Franklin County Times in Russellville and the Red Bay News,” APA President Kenneth Boone said. “He was president of APA in 1976 and led with a group of association officers who set an example for those who followed him.”

Sparks was also awarded U.S. Steel Corporation’s weekly newspaper “Alabama Journalist of the Year” in 1964. His editorial page took on several other community issues, including the retirement of the party-line telephone system and the effort to fluoridate the water system in Russellville, both of which ended successfully.

“We enjoyed hearing from Mr. Sparks at the APA office from time to time. He remained interested in the association and in our newspapers,” APA Executive Director Felicia Mason said.

He organized and was the first chairman of the Russellville Jaycees’ Franklin County Fair and received the Jaycees’ Distinguished Service Award in 1958.

The family received friends at Laughlin Funeral Service Home Sat. Sept. 22 from 10-11 a.m., with a graveside service at Franklin Memory Gardens in Russellville following at 2 p.m.

Franklin County

Maj. William Russell: City owes its name to pioneer settler


Expect closures for U.S. 43 at Walmart 

Franklin County

RCS, FCS offer seamless summer meal programs


Belgreen FFCLA hosts basketball tournament to help hunger

Franklin County

Phi Theta Kappa inducts honorees from Franklin County at NEMCC


Congratulations to the Class of 2023!


PHOTOS: West Elementary enjoys color run


Strawberry farm offers u-pick fun


PHOTOS: RHS Class of 2023 seniors graduate


PHOTOS: Tharptown, Phil Campbell, Belgreen, Vina, Red Bay seniors graduate

Franklin County

Charles Parrish: Superintendent’s love for school system sees stadium named in his honor

High School Sports

Kiel helps obtain funds for TES bleachers 


Area residents among those on ICC honors lists

Franklin County

FC chooses new assistant county engineer 


Red Bay’s Weatherford Library gears up for summer reading program


NW-SCC students to showcase their art at Tennessee Valley Museum of Art

Franklin County

Tharptown High School rocketry team blasts into second place in nation


Vina High School holds Spring Spectacular 


RES fifth grade chorus presents “RES Goes Country” 


Addie’s Flip Tip and Tap holds 18th annual dance recital

Franklin County

Chucky Mullins: Football legend makes lasting impact

Franklin County

ACA awards foundation scholarship

Franklin County

FCS provides Seamless Summer meal programs

Franklin County

Commission announces voting location changes