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Sparks receives honorary degree from Appalachian

By Jeff Cloninger

BOONE, N.C.—Among those receiving degrees from Appalachian State University during its Fall Commencement on Dec. 10, 2016, was Richard G. Sparks, president and CEO of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. Sparks, a two-time graduate of Appalachian who holds a bachelor’s degree in healthcare management (1976) and an MBA (1978), is now a recipient of the university’s honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

View larger imageChancellor Sheri N. Everts of Appalachian State University with Richard G. Sparks, who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during Fall Commencement for his service to the community. Photo by Marie Freeman

Chancellor Sheri N. Everts remarked, “For nearly four decades, Richard Sparks’ vision and leadership has nurtured and expanded the breadth and quality of health care in the High Country. Throughout this time, he has maintained close ties with his alma mater, offering guidance and mentorship to our students, and serving as a valuable resource to our faculty. It is fitting that he now be able to add an honorary doctorate from Appalachian to his distinguished career.”

During the ceremony John Blackburn, secretary of Appalachian’s Board of Trustees, introduced Sparks and described his 38-year career with Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. “He became instrumental in recruiting expert health care professionals and critical services, such as dialysis, oncology and cardiology, to the High Country,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn noted that Sparks maintained ties to Appalachian and contributed to the university in numerous ways. “All the while, Mr. Sparks has been highly engaged with our students and programs on campus. He has frequently served as a guest lecturer in Peacock Hall classrooms, participated in special events such as the Boyles Distinguished Lecture Series and the Martha Guy Summer Institute, mentored students and provided expert guidance to the Walker College – since 2001 – as a key member and past chair of the Walker College’s Business Advisory Council.”

As he concluded his remarks, Blackburn said, “It has been my honor to know Richard for over 20 years. He is the embodiment of everything that is good about Appalachian State. He lives his life with the utmost integrity and high values. Richard’s vision and thoughtful attention to the health and well-being of the citizens of the High Country will long be remembered and appreciated.”

Appalachian named Sparks a Distinguished Alumnus in 2001, and in 2010 he received the Appalachian Alumni Association’s Outstanding Service Award.

Sparks will retire from Appalachian Regional Healthcare System on Jan. 27. A celebration in his honor will be held at Watauga Medical Center on Jan. 26, from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

About Appalachian

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.