Alumni filled the stage and crowd of the Sparks High theater Monday afternoon as four new members of the Sparks High School Hall of Fame were inducted. Sparks City Manager Shaun Carey and northern Nevada rodeo kingpin Joe Gandolfo accepted their plaques from members of the class of 2013 while family members claimed the awards of posthumous inductees Richard Rock Sr. and Kenneth Williams.
Shaun Carey, Class of 1975
Carey had the audience grinning ear to ear within seconds of taking the podium as he spouted tales from his high school and college days spent in northern Nevada. He said Sparks High holds “a special place” in his heart, and he expressed his amazement at the award Tuesday afternoon over the phone.
“It was really a cool experience for me and something I never ever expected to have happen to me,” Carey said. “It was really nice to have that many people look at you and what you have done. It leaves you kind of humbled.
“There have been so many things I have gotten to do because I have had the faith of the Mayor and Council of Sparks, and to be recognized for that by my former high school is just really neat.”
Carey said he and his fellow inductees provide a beacon of hope for current Sparks High students who may believe the odds are stacked against them. He said students at his alma mater have the opportunity to be successful in any endeavor they choose.
“I think it shows them the value of dedicating your life to what you really want to pursue,” he said. “I was really honored to represent all of the city employees that have graduated from Sparks High School. I think the young people there, much like the team that interviewed me, who are getting ready to graduate and getting ready to attend college, can see a positive influence.”
Carey said the opportunity to work for the government in his hometown, alongside fellow Sparks High grad Geno Martini no less, is a “solid” situation.
“There are lots of cities I could have worked for, but I don’t think I would have gotten as many opportunities as I have in Sparks,” Carey said. “Working in my hometown just makes it all the more satisfying. It is amazing to be in that town where I used to walk home along 4th Street and Probasco Way -- those are all places that I know well.”
Carey said the Hall of Fame induction was a proud moment for him and the ceremony was “a day I will never forget.”
Joe Gandolfo, Class of 1939
Gandolfo let current Sparks High students Toria Laughlin, Austin Ackerman and Maurice Kennedy say all that needed to be said about his past as Laughlin read aloud a biography prepared by the three students.
The three students captured the essence of Gandolfo’s past, highlighting his “work ethic and light-hearted joyfulness” through humorous stories of growing up on his family’s ranch, high school follies with his friends and a little bit of advice for the soon-to-be graduates.
“He told us he learned three things on the ranch: cooperation, sharing and confidence,” Laughlin read. “He told us the ranch is the best place in the world. You learn more about life.”
The students’ words sent everyone’s eyes over to Gandolfo when talk of a class reunion came about. Gandolfo told the students he “wishes the class of 1939 would have a reunion so he could see if they look as young as he does.”
“We asked him if he had any advice for us,” Laughlin read. “He told us pay attention to what is going on, take care of what you have, don’t buy stuff you don’t need, be sure to vote, get as much education as you can afford and try to get a job with a pension plan.”
Gandolfo, 92, accepted his handmade plaque from his seat but quickly felt the anticipation from the crowd build. He obliged as he grasped the handles of his two-wheeled walker and approached the microphone.
“It took me longer to get here than what I am going to say,” Gandolfo said as the crowd countered with laughter. “The young lady said everything that I can remember, even the things I don’t want to remember. I want to thank everybody for inducting me and I appreciate it very very much.”
Richard “Dick” Rock Sr., Class of 1938
Rock was described as a “Sparks guy through and through” by his son Alan who accepted the award on his behalf. From his early days at Sparks High School, where he served as Student Body President, and working at a local dairy, milking cows and delivering milk to returning from World War II to open his own drug store, Rock set community and family as his highest priorities.
Dick Rock’s Ideal Drug was under his care for 44 years and Rock continued to thrive as a pharmacist and as a local advocator serving on the Sparks Sertoma Club, Reno Elks Lodge, Nevada Planning Commission and Nevada Pharmacists Association.
Rock passed away in November of 2010 and was followed shortly after by his wife of 67 years.
“He was always here for the school and I know he really did love this place,” Alan said of his father. “I remember I always used to tell people I was from Reno because everyone knew where that was, but not my dad. He always said he was from Sparks, Nevada. He loved Sparks and I know he would be honored to receive this award.”
Kenneth Williams, Class of 1942
Though Williams was the first principal at Reed High School, his roots lie at Sparks High where he was consumed by athletics throughout his tenure. Coached by the legendary Tip Whitehead, Williams was called an “athlete at heart” by the presenting students and he was one of a few students who were called into action during World War II before school was completed.
Williams attended the University of Nevada, Reno, receiving his degree from the College of Education, which set him on the path to teaching and improving the education system in Sparks. Williams taught chemistry and coached basketball, baseball and junior varsity football at Sparks High before helping create Reed High School, where he worked until his retirement in 1982.
Williams passed away in April of 2012 and was preceded by his wife Shirley and his daughter Kendyl Depoali. His daughter Jan Martin accepted the award on his behalf.
“He would have been very honored to know you have done this for him,” Martin said.