Sparks is president and CEO of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, which is comprised of Blowing Rock Hospital, Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital in Linville and Watauga Medical Center in Boone. He earned a bachelor's degree in healthcare management from Appalachian in 1976 and an MBA in 1978.
"Not only has Richard distinguished himself professionally within the health care industry, he also is a role model of service to the Appalachian Family," wrote Walker College of Business Dean Randy Edwards.
Sparks is known for his service to the university. He has served on search committees, been a guest speaker in business classes and has mentored and provided internships to students interested in a health care career.
He is chair of the Walker College of Business Advisory Council and has been a council member since 2001 helping the college strengthen its academic programs. Sparks also has served on the Health, Leisure and Exercise Science Advancement Board since 2004. He is a member of the Health Care Management Program's board of advisors.
Sparks also has provided invaluable support in the establishment of Appalachian's new College of Health Sciences.
"Richard's multifaceted involvement with Appalachian is helping the university chart a new course for the future," Edwards said. "His support in establishing the new college will have an everlasting impact on our campus and region."
Sparks received the Alumni Association's Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2001. He has served on the N.C. Hospital Association's policy committee and the N.C. Hospital Association's Board of Trustees, and he was recently appointed to the N.C. School of Science and Math Board of Trustees.
Locally, he has been active with the Boone Rotary Club, the Watauga Chapter of the American Red Cross and on community boards including the High Country United Way and the Grandfather Home for Children.
Sparks is a native of Shelby. He began his health care career in 1978 as an assistant administrator at Watauga Hospital.
Richard G. Sparks: I think I first volunteered and became involved with the University in teaching, back in the 1980s, and particularly health care classes in the College of Business. It was a real thrill to share what I was experiencing with students who would soon be out in their own careers in just a few years. I'm most proud of Appalachian for the quality of instruction, the quality of the experience. It's just remarkable when I see students going out and employers talking about them. How qualified they are. How hard-working they are. It just makes me real proud that they are carrying the banner so high.
My vision for the new College of Health Science is much like Dr. Peacock's. That is, don't put any limits on it. Let it be what it should be. I really do think that there's going to be innovative ways of educating and training physicians in the decades to come. We are setting, what I believe, a foundation in place with our new college that we can be a part of that. To be a recipient of this award is a huge honor and I accept it on behalf of everybody who has contributed and supported the University.
I think it's real important for all of us to support the University and contribute after we graduate. I had such an experience. I had never dreamed that I would have the opportunity to do the things that I have. When I arrived in 1972, my plans were to graduate in four years with a bachelors degree and go home and find a good job. I had no concept whatsoever that I would end up staying in Boone and becoming a part of the hospital and, subsequently, the health care system. And the reason all that happened was people gave me opportunities. Many of those people are here tonight. They challenged me, they opened doors, they said "Dream and dream big." That's what I've done. So if anything that I've done has made life better for some people then that's the greatest reward that anyone can ever get.