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A Salute to 37 Years of Sparky

Thirty-four years ago, the man with the distinct glasses perfectly framing his face and starched button-down shirt, reached for my hand to introduce himself: “Hi, I’m Sparky.”

Dean of Students Sparky Reardon
Dean of Students Sparky Reardon

It was a unique name I thought until learned more about Thomas J. “Sparky” Reardon and the impact he would ultimately have on my life and scores of others. I don’t know why I never asked him where he got the nickname Sparky, but watching him interact with students certainly gave me an opportunity to see the spark he put in their lives.
There are people who you believe will never retire. We become so accustomed to them serving that admittedly we take their presence for granted. So when I read via social media that Thomas J. “Sparky” Reardon was actually retiring from a university he loves more than words can explain, I nearly fell out of my chair. I don’t know if my shock was because of his decision to retire or rooted in my own selfishness that I never wanted or expected him to.
Over the years, there are literally thousands of people with stories to tell about Sparky. And during his 37 years at Ole Miss, impressive all around, he probably has even better tales he could spin about the people who have come across his path. Most, I’m sure, are deeply embedded in his mind never to be shared. When one holds the dean of student life title the confidentiality inherent in that position is both a blessing and a burden. You are blessed to have a Rolodex of admiring students large enough to fill a yearbook. You are burdened because you are bound to protect student privacy. In essence, you are often in the position of taking on their problems, often making them your own.
During my tenure in the early 1980s, I saw Sparky handle more situations and put out more fires than any fire department. As long as there are students, there will be issues – sometimes trouble. I’ve seen Sparky handle them both. While I’m sure he was often frustrated by silly student behavior, what usually emerged at the end of the day was a smile that made bad situations at least seem better.
I remember visiting Sparky’s office when I was a student and watching students lined up just to have the chance to get advice from the man. When students celebrated milestones, Sparky was right alongside of them to join in. Back in my time, he kept close reins on the fraternity and sorority culture, and wasn’t afraid to discipline when it was called for or to lend a hand if one of the groups asked for it.
If ever there was a man stretched thin, it was Sparky. In my days at Ole Miss and in the days since I left, I don’t know that I’ve met a more unifying figure. Students pulled and tugged for his attention. I struggle to understand how he managed to listen to each and every one of them, but he did. If there is anyone who deserves to retire, it is Sparky. For all the situations he’s had to resolve, the man needs a nap.
On March 29, the UM Foundation is hosting the Sparky Reardon Retirement Gala at The Mill at Plein Air in Taylor, Miss. with dinner and a banquet. It costs $100 per person and all proceeds benefit the Sparky Reardon Endowment Scholarship for Student Affairs at Ole Miss.
If you’d like to attend or have questions about the Gala, contact Denson Hollis by phone at 662-915-5092 or email at dhollis@olemiss.edu.
Checks should be mailed to: Sparky Reardon Retirement Gala, c/o UM Foundation, P.O. Box 249, University, MS 38677
— Ronnie Agnew, a former executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger, is the executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting. E-mail him at Ronnie.Agnew@mpbonline.org

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