For five young women in 1959 beginning their first year of teaching in an unknown city, the decision to rent a house together on Sparks Street seemed a fitting metaphor for their new adult lives.
A lot was set in motion from that quiet street in Midland: the joy of teaching young children, a sisterhood that would survive distances and life’s big changes, and ultimately a $25,000 scholarship to the UNT College of Education given by the women to support elementary education majors.
“The Five Sparks Education Scholarship” carries the former roommates moniker and commemorates the lifelong friendship of Phyllis Wright Tate (’59), Elaine Parker Boane (’59), Anita Rambo Dunlap (’59), Julia Edwards Wilson (’59) and the late Dianne Stroope Kelsch (’59).
“We’ve often said ‘where would we be without our education from North Texas’,” says Tate, a native of League City, who first met her friends at Bruce Hall. “UNT started us on life’s path together and we believe it’s important to give something back.”
When the Midland Independent School District recruited them for teaching jobs, the choice of Midland was unanimous. The district had the state’s second highest teacher salaries and, as an added bonus, a 3 to 1 ratio of men to women.
Kelsch and Edwards drove there to rent the group an apartment. The broad, scrub plains seemed like a “moonscape” to girls who had never been west of Fort Worth. In Midland they found a modern city, but no apartments big enough for five women. About to give up, they learned about a house on Sparks Street. Their future landlady was desperate to move overseas to join her husband in the oil business.
“To our great surprise, she agreed to lease her house to five young teachers, about whom she knew very little,” says Wilson. “The home was large and completely furnished. She left dishes, linens, everything. We even had a piano. Dianne and Anita were musicians so we had many enjoyable times around that piano.”
They lived at Sparks Street for only a few years. Two of them met their husbands in Midland. After separating to marry and raise families, the women never let the bonds of friendship fray. In the late 1960s, they began a tradition of girls-only weekends at somebody’s home and over the decades took trips together to Aspen, Colorado Springs, Puerto Vallarta, Santa Fe and Tyler.
They would catch up on each other’s news and reminisce about their UNT days.
“None of us were campus beauty queens. We were just ordinary girls who enjoyed our time at North Texas and valued our friendship,” Tate says.
In 2009, they returned to UNT for their 50th reunion and announced their scholarship gift.
Jerry Thomas, dean of the College of Education, says the Five Sparks have left a wonderful legacy of their friendship.
“The College of Education is grateful that they chose to give their alma mater the gift of a scholarship and grateful for the lesson that comes with it, which is the importance of sharing your life with good friends who will be there for you with each new adventure,” Thomas says.
The Five Sparks Education Scholarship will be available to eligible students in fall 2012. Students must have met the minimum entrance and continuing academic performance standards of the Department of Teacher Education and Administration and be enrolled full-time at UNT. To learn more about the scholarship as well as other College of Education scholarships, visit the scholarship site at the UNT Department of Teacher Education and Administration.