Friends, co-workers and a lone family member
Monday remembered part-time census worker and substitute teacher
Bill Sparkman as "a man who positively impacted and enriched the
lives" of the people in this southeastern Kentucky community.
Sparkman, 51, was found hanging from a tree in a remote Kentucky
forest on Sept. 12 and his mysterious death - the word "fed" was
written across his chest - remains under investigation.
"We gather tonight with questions," said the Rev. Wade Arp,
pastor of First United Methodist Church. "Why this happened, how
could this happen? What do we do now? Where do we go from here? But
clearly something that is not in question is the hurt, loss and
grief we feel when someone special to us, close to us, dies."
About 70 people attended a memorial service for Sparkman,
including Sparkman's 20-year-old son, Josh, who was the only family
member present. Josh Sparkman sat quietly in the front pew, head
bowed, and did not speak.
But photos projected on a screen during the service showed Josh
Sparkman as a toddler with his father, one shot taken at
Christmastime. Another showed Bill Sparkman as a teacher, and as a
young man himself, graduating from high school. Particularly
telling was a photo of a local newspaper headline from a story that
chronicled Bill Sparkman's winning battle with lymphoma: Never Give
Up, Never Give In.
"I don't think you saw a single picture in that slide show that
he didn't have a big smile on his face," said family friend
Thomas Mesenbourg, deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau,
praised Bill Sparkman's "persistence and dedication" and said his
service deserves to be remembered.
Charlene Woods, a 5th grade teacher at Johnson Elementary
School, said Sparkman was very quiet and shy when she first met him
as a parent volunteer. She said his first concern was always his
Bill Sparkman later went on to become a substitute teacher at
As a census worker, Bill Sparkman went door-to-door in Clay
County, but that work was suspended after his death, census
Mesenbourg said the census bureau is going to discuss this week
whether to resume the work, and other workers have asked to begin
doing door-to-door work in teams rather than alone. He said the
decision will be based on what local law enforcement says about the
safety of the workers.
Sparkman's body was found in the Daniel Boone National Forest
last month with a rope around his neck and the word "fed"
scrawled across his chest.
A family visiting a Clay County cemetery found Sparkman's body,
his hands and feet duct-taped.
The state medical examiner's office has established the cause of
death as asphyxiation but has not determined whether it was a
homicide, accident or suicide.
Both Kentucky State Police spokesman Don Trosper and medical
examiner executive director Mike Wilder said investigators have not
yet made that determination.
"It is unfortunate - even tragic - that the circumstances of
Bill Sparkman's death have overshadowed and even taken our focus
away from the wonderful and inspiring man that many of us knew and
loved and appreciated," Arp said. "In other words, what is not
known about his death is overshadowing what is known about his
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)