This was the second year Sparks had been a finalist for Pierce City's top honor, presented by the Dacy Foundation.
The Helping Hands Award is named for Dale Taunton, who was killed in the May 4, 2003, tornado while helping people seek shelter. Nominations are accepted from the public, and the winner is named by an independent panel.
Other finalists this year were: Wayne Towers, Senior Center board member; John Archer, music teacher and alderman; and Debbie Parmley Hewitt.
The award was presented by Deborah Taunton, Dale Taunton's widow.
In accepting the award, Sparks recalled her late husband, Perry, whom she wished had been present for the occasion.
"We came back here 10 years ago," Sparks said. "We never regretted it. You grieve in private and heal in community. There is no better community in which to heal."
Sparks said the Senior Center continues to thrive without state aid, and she expressed her pride in the local supporters who have helped guide and support the program she leads.
Taunton encouraged the audience to support the Dacy Foundation's efforts in running various community events, including the youth fishing derby, the Easter egg hunt and sponsoring Santa Claus's annual visit.
Also honored at the banquet was retiring mayor Carol Hirsch. Don Ruzicka, 132nd District state representative, brought a House resolution praising Hirsch's 15 years of public service, including 12 as Pierce City's first female mayor.
The resolution also cited Hirsch's efforts in establishing the Harold Bell Wright Museum, the David Jones Public Library and her service on the OAXACA Advisory Board, the Lawrence County Tax Board for the Developmentally Disabled, the Barry-Lawrence County Regional Library Board and as an emergency response representative for the American Red Cross.
Ruzicka was the guest speaker for the occasion and spoke about efforts in the Missouri House to deal with budget shortfalls and to shape next year's state financial road map.
"I'm proud of Missourians," Ruzicka said. "They understand there are tough times. We had to cut $500 million from the budget. That affects individuals and cuts programs. People understand the money isn't there. We're going to make it. We will weather the storm."
A number of steps are being considered to make government more efficient, Ruzicka said, such as combining the departments of elementary and secondary education with higher education, or combining the Missouri Water Patrol and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Other efforts Ruzicka highlighted included strengthening laws against drunk driving and advancing six different state constitutional amendments for voters to consider in November. The amendments range from opting out of the federal healthcare legislation, protecting the agriculture industry and expanding rights under the castle doctrine.
Candidates running for office in the August primary who attended the banquet were formally introduced. Those present included: Ruzicka; Noelle Harmon, running for Lawrence County clerk; Don Trotter, running for Lawrence County prosecutor; Bob George, running for associate division circuit judge in Lawrence County; and Steve Kahre, running for re-election as circuit court clerk.
Entertainment for the evening was provided by Deanna Raley and her daughter, Tracy, singing, with grandson, Seth, playing the guitar. They performed "Daddy's Hands," Merle Haggard's 1971 song "Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)" and "Three Rusty Nails."
Teresa Heeter received a round of applause for preparing the meal. Donated items were given away as door prizes.