Rebecca Sparks ’67
has never had a master plan for her life. “My passion has led me in different things, always,” she says. “Nothing was really thought out.” She has always had just one requirement: “I have to love what I’m doing. I’m very spoiled!”
Rebecca has spent her life clothing and feeding others, first as the creator of a knitwear company (“I fell in love with textiles in college”), then, inspired by her love of food and wine, as a restaurant manager. After organizing a large charity fundraiser against hunger, she realized she could use her passion for good: “The event was an eye-opener on what was going on in the world, and really did influence me to worry more about people who were really in need.”
She decided to study nutrition, she says, “because it could help me, and it could help people in general.” After obtaining a master’s in nutrition education at Columbia University, she taught community nutrition at NYU for 14 years and worked as a nutrition consultant at Head Start centers around the city, helping young families improve their eating habits through counseling and cooking classes.
“It felt really good to be doing something for somebody else,” she says. But after a decade and a half, her passion for the work began to wane. She bristled at the narrow focus of many of the NYU students, who wanted to help people lose weight rather than foster broader principles of better nutrition, and she found herself increasingly bogged down by paperwork for Head Start rather than doing what she really loved: working directly with clients.
In 2018, she retired and moved full time to a “beautiful place in the middle of nowhere,” a centuries-old house nestled in the green hills of upstate New York. From there, she watches eagles soaring above the river and keeps an eye out for bears. She shops almost exclusively at farmers markets, works at a local food pantry, and actively supports local farmland conservation efforts. She nurtures a lush garden. (“This year, the rain was unbelievable—I got the best onions and worst tomatoes I’ve ever had,” she says.)
And she’s begun to spend much more time pursuing another long-held, long-unrealized passion: pottery. In the ceramics studio she installed on the property she creates beautiful and whimsical ceramics featuring birds, leaves, and patterns from the natural world. As she says on her website, rebeccasparkspots.com, “Drinking from a ceramic cup is your most intimate relationship with pottery.”
But just as COVID-19 exploded in the country, a diagnosis of multiple myeloma upended her own life. Sparks closed her studio and spent two grueling years shuttling back and forth to New York City for treatment.
At last, she’s feeling stronger, and she is excited to get back to her ceramics work. As the owner of a “pandemic puppy,” she’s planning on branching out into canine accoutrements. “One of the new things I’ll be making is, surprise surprise, dog dishes,” she says, laughing.
Rebecca remains alert to opportunities for joy. “When we talk about health, it’s not necessarily about blood pressure,” she says. “Yes, things like that contribute, but finding the things that make you happy and take the tension away . . . passion is a really important thing.”