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In Tribute – Honoring the life and contributions of Dr. Robert D. Sparks

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) honors the life and contributions of Dr. Robert D. Sparks, former president and trustee of WKKF from 1982-1987, who passed away on July 1, 2014.

Sparks, a physician, came to the Kellogg Foundation in 1976, as a program director in medicine and health. Later, he became president and chief programming officer. In that role, he was instrumental in helping the Kellogg Foundation’s program units – health, agriculture and education – to work in a more collaborative way. This approach has become a hallmark of foundation programming throughout the years. “As an organization, WKKF has been fortunate to have exemplary leaders like Dr. Sparks as part of our story and history,” said La June Montgomery Tabron, current WKKF president and CEO.

“Dr. Sparks made invaluable contributions that strengthened the foundation’s programmatic efforts toward changing lives for children. He knew that committing to children and youth was critical for a successful society, and one of his greatest interests was how institutions could make a positive impact on society, often leading him to ask, ‘Is there a better way of doing something.’ And what he found was that interdisciplinary programming and inter-field thinking could increase the value and success in societal terms.

“For Dr. Sparks that thinking set the stage for a truly great contribution. He was a developer of the first Kellogg National Leadership Program, which put a clear focus on how people who assume leadership roles in this society understand what leadership is, what it isn’t, and how to be a better contributor. That characterized what was happening within the fields of health, education and agriculture, and ultimately society itself.

“Under Sparks’ leadership, WKKF also made great strides in the area of program evaluation. He helped to adapt what had been a purely scientific approach into a format that was better suited for measuring the social science aspects of foundation programming.

“It is amazing today to see how Dr. Sparks’ influence has helped shape the foundation’s way of thinking and doing. When I last spoke with him following my appointment as CEO early in the year, he expressed his continued admiration for the foundation’s focus and leadership. I know that as a foundation, we are extraordinary grateful for his many contributions and thankful that the baton that he passed has fostered our growth and evolution,” continued Tabron.
Before joining the foundation, Sparks served four years as chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and vice president of the University of Nebraska System. He also served in faculty and administrative positions at the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, where he was named dean in 1969.

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