Phillip Sparks Memorial Park in Keene, TX

"Friendliest small town in the south"

The Mizpah Gate is a historical landmark that stands at the southern entrance to the Southwestern Adventist University. Students often found Phillip standing under the gate smiling and greeting students. (Credit: Elizabeth Brown)

Some people change you and you’re never the same. Your whole life seems brighter just because they were in it. Philip Sparks didn’t change just my life, he changed an entire town and the people who lived there. This special needs man was the most genuinely kind person I’ve ever met. I tell his and our town’s story below.

Keene is a small town in North Texas. Right before the city limits there’s a home called CLC where a group of adults with special needs reside together with some caretaker. The residents have jobs and are frequently taken on day trips to see movies, go shopping and such. They’re encouraged to live as independently as possible as far as their specific abilities allow.  

Phillip Sparks lived here and enjoyed spending his days at our duck pond, a small local lake where families came to fish or feed bread to the large duck and goose population. He would always greet everyone and anyone with a huge smile, a kind word, and a big hug. He was thrilled when the town decided to build an actual park with swings, walking trails, and different recreational outdoor sports arenas.  Phillip would happily tell everyone how excited he was about seeing what the new park was going to look like and how happy he knew he would be when he got to spend time with all his friends in the new park. Everyone in the community donated the funds for the new park including Keene’s local churches, schools, the local library, and local businesses as well as charities and non-profit organizations.   

Sadly, everyone’s heart broke a little when right before the new park was completed Phillip passed away.  He had brought so much joy to the entire town that we all decided to come together and honor his memory in the place he would’ve enjoyed spending time and spreading kindness the most. We named the new park after Phillip. Now when I go to Phillip Sparks Memorial Park, I remember his big hugs and sweet nature. He could make a gray day bright again. It was difficult not to return his bright smile. But if we look up and see the entrance to “Phillips” park, we think about how much he would’ve loved his favorite place bearing his name. In a way, Phillip is still brightening our days like he always did at the park. 

Phillip loved spending time on the college campus grounds. Students often stopped to converse with their favorite local resident. (Credit: Elizabeth Brown)

In my heart I believe our town was blessed to know a man like Phillip Sparks. He showed us what it was to live and love by sharing pure joy with each other. His nice nature made our whole town a brighter place to live and a kinder population. It only took Phillip’s one little candle of kindness to light our town’s flame. Now we get to pass it on and I hope this is one fire that never gets extinguished.

If you ever find yourself in a small north Texas town named Keene and you can’t figure out why everyone is so nice or has a kind word even though they may look exhausted or it might be a Monday, just remember, it might just be the Nicest Place in America.