Dr. Sparks was born in Newton, Iowa. He received his BA from the University of Iowa in 1955 and his MD in 1957. After doing a residency at the Tulane University School of Medicine in internal medicine and gastroenterology, he joined the faculty of Tulane and later served as Dean of the School of Medicine. In 1972, Dr. Sparks became the Chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Vice President of the University of Nebraska System.
Dr. Sparks' interests have included international collaboration and cooperation, and he served as a Fellow of the U.S.-China Educational Institute (now Wildflowers Institute) and was one of the five physicians appointed to the U.S. Delegation for medical exchanges with the U.S.S.R. under the sponsorship of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.S.S.R. Academy of Medical Sciences. He has played an active role in programs for alcohol and drug treatment services, including serving on the Board of Directors of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence from 1981 to 1993.
Dr. Sparks has had a distinguished career of leadership in academic medicine, education, public health and philanthropy. He passed away on July 1, 2014, in Placerville, California.