In the News

Salina Woman Leaves Bequest to Smoky Hill River Festival

Friday, December 30th, 2016

The Smoky Hill River Festival personified Jeri Sparks.

Nancy Groth, Sparks’ sister, made that statement Thursday afternoon after a brief ceremony at the Greater Salina Community Foundation announcing that Sparks had left a $321,975 bequest from her trust fund to the River Festival.

“The River Festival embodied her whole personality,” Groth said.  “The fine arts, the sounds, the tastes, the feelings.  She loved it.”

Sparks, who moved to Salina in 1986, graduated from Brown Mackie College in 1988 and worked for Brown Welding Supply as a staff accountant and payroll clerk.

When Brown was purchased by Airgas USA, she continued in a variety of administrative capacities.  Sparks said that Airgas even created a position allowing her to travel to various Airgas locations in Kansas and other states.

In November 2013, however, she was diagnosed with cancer.  She died in March 2016.

‘She loved it all’

Groth, who lives in Satanta in southwest Kansas, only got to attend the River Festival once, in 2014.  She said she could tell her sister loved it.

Sparks said her sister lived near Oakdale Park and often listened to live music from the festival on her front porch.

“The arts, the clothing, the wind chimes,” Groth said. “She loved it all.”

By working for the same company for 26 years, investing wisely and spending her money frugally, Sparks managed to accumulate a nest egg.

In spring 2014, she visited with Brad Anderson, Salina Arts & Humanities director, shortly after the Festival Legacy Fund was established.  She told him she thought the festival was a wonderful celebration of community that she wanted to support it for the future.

“I can’t tell you how much this gift means to the community and the River Festival,” Anderson said at the ceremony.  “The proceeds from her gift will help shape our festival for many years to come.”

Three options

Anderson said the Legacy Fund is one of the funds included in the Greater Salina Community Foundation which he said was the largest community foundation in Kansas with slightly less than $200 million in assets.

He said the Arts & Humanities Foundation board of directors, on an annual basis, had three options for income from the endowment:

  • Reinvest it into the endowment
  • Use up to 5 percent of it as a supplement to the River Festival budget
  • Designate it for a specific project or need for the River Festival, such as for new equipment or a stage.

Anderson added it will take almost a year to realize the first payment from the endowment.  THe Foundation board will make a decision at that point, he said.

In addition to the endowment announced Thursday, a bench in honor of Sparks will be placed in Oakdale Park near the Eric Stein Stage in time for the 2017 River Festival in June.


Story written by Harold Campbell, Salina Journal.