Gourd Lady gets $20k gift

When Gourd Lady Margaret Sparkman saw a man pull out his checkbook and start writing a check in her honor, she was thrilled.

She saw him start to write "2," and she thought he was going to donate $25.

That "2" was followed, not by the number five, but by four zeros. The mystery man gave Sparkman, 94, a $20,000 gift to help fund the community center in Conover named in Sparkman's honor.

"(The donor) came over and got down on his knees and talked to me," Sparkman said. "He said he was so glad to see me making people happy all these years with my original gourd art. I never dreamed of such a thing. It was just wonderful."

Sparkman was selling her gourd creations at a Charlotte Christmas show in November when she was approached by the donor. He didn't want his identity revealed, but he did want to see Sparkman continue doing what she does best: making people smile.

And that meant giving Sparkman the fun to pursue her gourd art and activities at the Sparkman Community Center, which is part of the Shuford YMCA in Conover.

This spring will mark Sparkman's 50th year attending craft shows throughout the South, but this Christmas marked the first time she received a $20,000 donation.

Nanci Gregory, who works at the Sparkman Community Center, said in an e-mail message that the funding received from Sparkman's donation will help start a computer lab and fund other programs for the center.

The Sparkman Community Center holds regular activities for seniors throughout the year, including exercise classes, Bridge games, music demonstrations and other arts and crafts opportunities.

Sparkman credits those activities with keeping her young at heart.

"It's helping us do our programs at the community center," Sparkman said. "And that does us good to get out and have fun. We have fun meeting with other people, and that keeps our minds alert."

The Sparkman Community was dedicated in Sparkman's honor in 2010. The bright red barn building behind the YMCA has multiple rooms for different activities during the day.

"I'm so proud to have a building named after me," Sparkman said. "I feel really humble for that, especially while I'm living. You don't know about getting a building named for you after you die."

Sparkman's recent donation to her community center is only one in a long list of accomplishments during her lifetime. In November, Sparkman was honored by Conover with the Mayor's Citizenship Award. The award recognized Sparkman for her 94 years as a Conover resident, as well as "sharing her talents as an accomplished artist while promoting agricultural heritage."

Sparkman creates gourd creatures of all shapes, colors and sizes. She hopes her art will help people realize and recognize the beauty of art in nature.

And although a computer center could be in the Sparkman Community Center's future, don't look for the Sparkman to be on the World Wide Web.

"Oh no," she said with a laugh. "I don't want to get into that."