In the spring of 1997, SPARK entered into an affiliation agreement with the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The Arts and Science Department of UMKC became SPARK’s official sponsor. There were obvious benefits to both parties. UMKC would have a thriving Lifelong Learning Institute (LLI) on campus and SPARK would have a collegiate environment and the intellectual and cultural resources of the university. By its 10th anniversary SPARK became a non-profit corporation under 501-C 3 tax status. In 2019, we celebrated our 25th Anniversary. of providing lifelong learning opportunities and social events for active adults in the Kansas City area.
At the beginning of 2020 SPARK relocated from the second floor of the UMKC Troost building to the first. This move was made to aid our members with mobility issues. With the outbreak of Covid-19 in the first quarter of 2020 SPARK embraced online classes via the Zoom Platform for our Summer 2020 quarter. This change in holding classes not only allowed our members to remain socially distance but also gave us the opportunity to launch the SPARK YouTube channel. While SPARK prefers to hold classes face to face, we are grateful to have this option to keep our members engaged and healthy,
2020 ended with a generous gift from the family of Flossie Pack in celebration of her 93rd birthday. Our name was changed to The SPARK Flossie Pack Center for Lifelong Learning and we were moved to the External Relations department of UMKC.
Family Surprises Matriarch with 93rd Birthday Gift to Beloved UMKC Program
Flossie Pack’s children wanted to surprise her for her 93rd birthday. She did not expect them to donate $600,000 to support the lifelong learning center that she loves, which will bear her name.
“Our family started talking in early September about what my mom’s passions were and how we could honor her for her 93rd birthday,” Jay Pack says. “Our daughters – her granddaughters – reminded us how much she loved SPARK.”
SPARK is the Senior Peers Actively Renewing Knowledge program that operates on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. The organization offers regular classes, book groups and tours for retirees who have a passion for learning.
“When I heard my mom was taking classes through SPARK I thought, ‘how cool!’” says Dee Pack, Flossie’s other son. “She has always been so articulate, well-read and interested in the arts. When I went to college and majored in music, she started piano lessons.”
One of the first classes that Flossie took at SPARK was basic computer skills. “I didn’t know anything about computers, so I just signed up,” Flossie says. “Now my mom Facetimes with her granddaughters all the time, which is what led to the idea,” Jay Pack says.
Pack contacted a lifelong friend and UMKC supporter, Ann Baum, for her advice. She recommended that Pack contact Lisa Baronio, president of the UMKC Foundation, to find out how they could help grow the organization.
“The Pack family’s devotion to honoring their mother and their vision and commitment to enhance lifelong learning is inspiring,” Baronio says. “We were excited to work together to envision a broader scope of program content and delivery in order to reach more seniors in the community.”
Last March, as SPARK was scheduled to begin its spring quarter, the COVID-19 pandemic transformed its programming in a dramatic way.
“Clearly we are a vulnerable population,” says SPARK Coordinator Bill Webb. “We wondered about going online, but had no idea how or even if we could. Some members said there was no way they would try.”
It was not an easy transition for some of SPARK’s 200 members. Ultimately, the members’ enduring commitment and curiosity led to a solution.
“We heard about holding classes on Zoom,” Webb says. “One of our instructors volunteered to give a class on classical music in May, and that worked!”
“Our family started talking in early September about what my mom’s passions were and how we could honor her for her 93rd birthday.”
This unexpected challenge and the resulting solution paved the way for SPARK members to embrace new technology and envision the advantages of the updates that the Pack gift will provide.
“UMKC values lifelong learning and is proud to partner with programs offering lifelong learning opportunities to seniors in our community,” says Diane Filion, vice provost for faculty affairs. “The Emeritus College, the Cockefair Chair and SPARK are all part of that commitment. SPARK currently provides a lot of programming on a tiny budget generated by membership and course fees.They are a volunteer-based organization with a part-time office manager and a small classroom in a university-owned building on Troost. They have worried about their future financial security.”
The Pack family not only wanted to foster financial security for SPARK, they wanted to provide resources to expand the program.
“There’s a real bond between the students and the instructors,” Jay Pack says. “We wanted to provide funding to take the program to the next level through outreach and upgrading the technology and physical space.”
“When I heard my mom was taking classes through SPARK I thought, “How cool!” – Dee Pack
The gift provides funding for marketing and operational support, advertising, printing and mailing of catalogs, website development, as well as office and technology support to enhance SPARK’s ability to offer its courses via Zoom or other technologies that will allow participation by members unable to attend in person.
On her birthday, SPARK prepared a plaque with the new name of the center – The SPARK Flossie Pack Center for Lifelong Learning – and shared it with Flossie on Zoom. Her whole family, including her seven granddaughters, were present.
“She didn’t want credit or for the center to be named for her,” Jay Pack says. “But we are a close family. Everyone looks up to her, and it was great to see how much it meant to her.”
Flossie says after her first class about computers, she began to explore many different subjects including the Middle East and Western Civilization. “The classes are so informational and I absorb so much,” she says. “And there’s no exam! A lot of us are repeat students.”
Dee Pack says the gift is a good fit because it honors his mother’s passion for learning.
“She was, and remains, so excited about her experiences at SPARK,” he says. “I hope I’m still passionate about learning at her age. We’re lucky to have a program that keeps people engaged, active, curious and informed.”
Flossie says she had no idea the gift was in the works.
“I was very pleased when they told me,” she says. “I mean, how many robes and scarves does one need?”