Umphrey endowment creates LU scholarship for union workers

Marilyn Tennissen Jul. 8, 2008, 9:28am

Attorney Walter Umphrey of Beaumont has created an endowment to provide scholarships for union workers at Lamar University.

At a press conference July 8, the university announced the scholarship in honor of the late Don "Jerry" Sparks, a prominent figure in the Southeast Texas labor community.

A $100,000 endowment, which was a gift from Umphrey, will generate funds for an annual scholarship to be awarded to a student attending Lamar who is a member or family member of United Steel Workers Local 13-423.

Sparks, who died June 1, was president of the USW local, which represents the majority of hourly workers at the Motiva refinery in Port Arthur, one of the area's largest employers. The Motiva Workmans' Committee will select scholarship recipients.

"Our law firm was built on representing the members of this union," Umphrey said at the Tuesday morning announcement. "I'm a Port Arthur native and I can remember back when we had 10,000 or 12,000 members out here. Jerry was a great guy, a great union member and a great friend. We feel privileged to give back."

In addition to serving as president of USW 13-423 from 2003, Sparks was a trustee on the executive board of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Local 4-23, on the executive board of the OCAW District 4 Council and a trustee on the executive board of the Sabine Area Central Council. He also served as a commissioner on Drainage District Pct 7 from 1997.

"He had an uncanny ability to tell the difference between struggle and compromise," said USW International Vice President Gary Beevers. "He knew that justice came from struggle, but he also knew that there was a time for compromise. Most people in this community don't realize that there would probably be one less refinery in this area were it not for Jerry. He did a lot to see to it that the community continued to be viable and that the refineries continued to be viable. He will sorely be missed."

"We're very grateful for the love and the generosity shown by all our friends especially Walter and Sheila Umphrey," said Doris Sparks, Jerry's wife of 43 years. "This $100,000 endowment is a show of extreme kindness from our dear friends. My heart is humbled and filled with great thankfulness that you chose to honor Jerry in this way."

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