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Gary Sparbel

March 17, 1946 - July 16, 2018
Portage, MI

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Portage District Library
300 Library Ln.
Portage, MI 49002
(269) 329-4544
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


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Although he saw so many of the most amazing places, what made these experiences so special for Gary Sparbel was sharing them with his wife. He was kind, helpful, and inquisitive with an insatiable thirst to learn more about the world around him. Gary loved learning more about his roots and was so proud of where he came from. He was the sort of person who could find beauty in the simplest of things, and he was content in whatever came his way. Gary will be deeply missed, but he leaves behind a priceless collection of memories that his friends and loved ones will forever hold near and dear to their hearts.

During the first half of the 1940s, the eyes of our nation were focused overseas as WWII raged on. With the war’s end in 1945, there was much to celebrate as the dark days of the Great Depression and the harsh realities of war were finally a thing of the past. It was shortly after the end of WWII that Robert and Thelma (Nelson) Sparbel were eagerly awaiting the birth of their new baby, as the promise of spring appeared on the horizon in March of 1946. Their wait was finally over on March 17th as they welcomed the birth of the baby boy they named Gary in Lansing, Michigan. He was one of two children, raised in the family home alongside his brother, Bob.

Growing up in Lansing, Gary was a young boy of his generation. His father worked as State Traffic Manager for Michigan Liquor Control, while his mother was a homemaker. As a student, Gary attended Lansing Public Schools, including Lansing Eastern High School. While in high school, he created a job for himself mowing lawns and snowplowing driveways. He knew that he would never be able to get away with anything, because he was 6'4" and had flaming red hair, earning him the nickname Fireball.

After graduating from high school, big changes were in store for Gary. He earned a degree in wild life management at Michigan State University. Then he spent some time serving in the Army, working as a surgical assistant in Vietnam. After that he started taking classes at Western Michigan University. This proved to be quite fateful as it was there that he met the young woman of his dreams. Her name was Deborah, and they met because his friend was dating a girl Deb knew on campus. It didn’t take the couple long to fall deeply in love. With a desire to spend the rest of their lives together, Gary and Deborah were married on August 3, 1974.

One of Gary’s favorite things to do with his wife was to travel. They took some trips out to the West Coast, driving the first time and taking an Amtrak train the second time. One of the most amazing parts was stopping at Glacier National Park, which they enjoyed so much they did it each time. Gary and his wife drove down the Oregon coast and also took a trip through some northern New England states like Maine and New Hampshire among others. They took a bus trip group to Missouri, and when they were 10 miles from Arkansas, they hired a driver to take both of them to Arkansas just to say that they had been there. Gary spent a lot of time researching his genealogy and visited the places where their ancestors lived. They have been to 38 states over the years. They liked going to the Renaissance Festival in Holly. Gary even liked dressing up, too. He and his wife took birding field trips through Kellogg Bird Sanctuary. They did a lot of bird watching in Sault Ste. Marie and Point Pelee in Ontario.

Throughout his life, Gary was one to be busy. He worked at several different libraries while also working on his master's degree. Then he spent 30 years working as a librarian at the Portage Library. Gary was an amazing cook when it came to BBQ, and he was all about low and slow with things like pulled pork and beef brisket. He even competed in various BBQ competitions throughout Michigan, Ohio, and Iowa. In addition to traveling and genealogy, Gary enjoyed making fused glass after taking classes at the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts. Since he and Deborah loved birding, a perfect day for Gary would have included walking around looking for birds for hours while enjoying a meal with friends in the midst of it.

Around home he could often be found out gardening and planting. Together he and his wife went to many shows and concerts, including several Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney concerts. A cat lover, Gary and his wife had three cats throughout their married lives.

As his family and friends can attest, Gary Sparbel was an extraordinary man to know and love. He was hardworking and very determined with a love for life that was contagious to all who were near. It was easy to see the love Gary had for his family, and the memories they made together are so very precious. Friendly, helpful, outgoing, and sometimes silly, he was a friend to many in the community he called home throughout much of his life. Gary will never be forgotten.

Gary Sparbel of Portage, MI, passed away July 16, 2018. Gary is survived by his wife: Deborah Ralston Sparbel; brother: Robert N. (Carol) Sparbel; close nieces: Amity and Desiree; nieces: Emily, Ariyanna, Juliette, Renee, Marli; nephew: Bert; brothers in-law: Rick Ralston and Vaughn (Lynda) Ralston; sister in-law: Roberta Ralston; and special friends: Steve (Carol) Belson and Carolyn Mainone. Gary was preceded in death by his parents: Robert and Thelma (Nelson) Sparbel; father and mother in-law: Robert and Winifred (Herr) Ralston; and niece: Alena. Please visit Gary’s webpage at www.mccowensecord.com where you can archive a photo, sign the guestbook, and share a memory. Memorial donations can be made to the Portage District Library or the charity of your choice.

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