At the first-ever DASNR Honors Night in Stillwater, Sparks was recognized as a 2015 DASNR Champion.

In 1977, the Memphis, Tennessee, resident and her late husband Willard built Sparks Companies, Inc., which provides risk management tools to agribusiness and farmers. The worldwide company is a leading agricultural research and consulting business, focusing on grains, cotton and livestock.

The Sparks’ focused on commodity merchandise while operating one of the largest cattle operations in the nation. Today, Sparks Companies Inc., continues to impact agriculture around the United States and beyond.

After Willard’s passing in 2005, she formed her own investment company, Sparks Enterprises Inc.

The Sparks have invested in a number of OSU and DASNR endeavors, such as establishing scholarships for agriculture students, endowing a chair in agricultural economics and serving as donors and fundraisers for the division’s Willard Sparks Beef Research Center.

“It’s really a great honor to be able to recognize Rita and Willard for what they’ve done to help send us in so many positive directions,” said Tom Coon, vice president, dean and director of DASNR. “It’s hard to walk around and look at the programs we have in the division without encountering the Sparks name. Rita and her late husband have been extremely generous in supporting a variety of things, from scholarships for students to an endowed chair that actually has helped us to retain one of our eminent agricultural economists.”

All of Sparks’ involvement with DASNR is centered around one common thread – preparing students to lead in industry. College tuition is not cheap, so the scholarships offered through Sparks can go a long way.

“It’s no small undertaking to go to college, and we certainly, at Oklahoma State, attract a lot of very bright energetic students from rural areas, so it’s a really big deal when you have a scholarship that can help a deserving student pay his or her way through college,” said Mike Woods, head of the OSU Department of Agricultural Economics. “So, offering that annual scholarship has a tremendous impact and it allows us to attract and retain some of the best and brightest students that might be available.”

The center is the most modern facility in the country to do research on shipping stressed calves and feedlot cattle. The goals of the center are to improve production efficiency in cattle, have a positive effect on beef quality and have a positive economic effect on all farmers and ranchers.

“Beef cattle represent a very important component of agriculture in the state of Oklahoma and so the research that goes on in the Willard Sparks Research Facility helps improve efficiencies in cattle production throughout the state,” Woods said. “You just cannot understate the positive impact the Sparks’ support has had for DASNR and for agriculture in the state and in the country.”

Sparks exemplifies the power of women’s leadership and philanthropy. In 2010, she received both the University of Memphis Distinguished Friend Award and the Tennessee Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy for her support of higher education. She was the Memphis recipient of the 1999 Outstanding Volunteer Fund Raiser from the National Society for Fund Raising Executives and a member of the 1996 Leadership Memphis class. Ms. Sparks has been a licensed commodity broker since 1980.

Also selected as 2015 DASNR Champions were Linda Cline and John Williams.


Oklahoma State University, in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Higher Education Act), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal and state laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, genetic information, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, or status as a veteran, in any of its policies, practices or procedures.  This provision includes, but is not limited to admissions, employment, financial aid, and educational services. The Director of Equal Opportunity, 408 Whitehurst, OSU, Stillwater, OK 74078-1035; phone 405-744-5371; email: [email protected] has been designated to handle inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies: Director of Equal Opportunity. Any person (student, faculty, or staff) who believes that discriminatory practices have been engaged in based on gender may discuss his or her concerns and file informal or formal complaints of possible violations of Title IX with OSU’s Title IX Coordinator 405-744-9154.

Sean Hubbard
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
145 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-4490
Fax: 405-744-5739
Email: [email protected]

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