Born in 1972 at Deaconess Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri,
as a resident of Maplewood, Missouri, located in St. Louis County.
Attended K-12 in the Maplewood-Richmond Heights school district.
Graduated from Clayton High School in 1990.
Wasted a year at Webster University from 1990-1991.
Self-educated software programmer, database developer, systems and software admin.
Now living in Fletcher, Missouri USA with his stunning and amazing wife, Kathy.
Phase 0 : The First 5 Years
There’s not much I remember here. I was born into the Maplewood Corps of the Salvation Army, and was “dedicated to God” at whatever early age they do that… similar to baptism, without the water. About two and a half months later my best friend for many years, Alan Epps, was born into, and dedicated at, the same Corp. We basically grew up sitting next to each, or across the isle from each other, at church, and doing the eat-shit-sleep routine we all go through.
Phase 1 : Age 5 to Age 19 – The Salvation Army Years
These years of my life were dominated by the Salvation Army. Even during my Elementary School years I had more friends at the Salvation Army than I did at school. While I spent countless days with the guys growing up within a block of my home in Maplewood, even more time was spent with people at church on Sunday’s (and later, most days of the week), various church functions, and my mom’s summer job: Camp Mihaska.
Camp Mihaska is a 400+ acre spot in southern Missouri gifted to the Salvation Army decades ago. It was developed into a “camp” complete with lots of individualized lodging, staff lodging, a dining hall, a church, a swimming pool, and a few support buildings all crammed into about 30 acres, with much of the remaining acreage not used for Salvation Army functions, if anything at all. While some private functions and “Corp Retreats” were commonly scheduled/booked at Camp Mihaska during the winter months, Summer was prime season. Summer consisted of a series of “camps” ranging from a few days to the better part of a week in length, with each “camp” having a specific focus. For example, the first camp of every year was called “Correctional Boys Camp.” A totally politically incorrect title for the times we live in today, this camp was specifically for young inner-city males caught up in the St. Louis justice system. Over the course of the summer there were such as Girls Camp, Boys Camp, Music Camp, Family Camp, and even Senior Citizen Camp, all spanning the course of about 2.5 months.
My mom started working summers at Camp Mihaska when I was 5 years old. If my math is right, that means she started working as the Dining Room Supervisor at Camp Mihaska in 1977. She held that position for the next 11 years. That means I spent 2.5 months of every summer at a church camp in Bourbon, MO, from the age of 5 to 17. I personally worked on the staff at Camp Mihaska for three summers, ages 15, 16, and 17.
Coming home from my 3rd year on staff at Camp Mihaska was a wake-up call, and a liberation. Things really started to change after that summer, including my outlook on things, my ability to analyze things on my own and make my own decisions, and my involvement with the Salvation Army, including my relationships with friends and family that were still attending the Maplewood Corp at the time. By the time I was 19 I was done with the Salvation Army, and as I would find out over the next few years, done with church and organized religion as a whole.
Phase 2 : Age 19 to Age 28 – The Weird Years
My first 2 years on staff at Camp Mihaska were awesome, almost magical. I had been looking forward to being on staff for a very long time. My 3rd year was not so great. I mean, it was great, but it wasn’t. Struggling with rules in general, hypocrites, and living in a circle of people intent on telling me how to live my life really wasn’t working out. Getting away from Camp Mihaska, and the Salvation Army, was the best thing that could have happened to me. Those 11 years at Camp, and my time with the Salvation Army as a whole, were filled with great times, though, and I have great memories that I hope to share in the days and years to come. And yet, being free of the Salvation Army, the church and religion, living up to the expectations of those around me at the Salvation Army, and the whole bit about burning hell if you say the wrong thing the wrong way to the wrong person, changed my life. Things started to get a whole lot better, a whole lot more productive, a whole lot more fun, and a whole lot more real.
I spent the next phase of my life working my ass off, spending my money with the few friends and little free time I had, and learning a lot about life outside the Salvation Army Bubble. I worked as a photo lab geek at CPI Photofinish and K&S Photographics. I worked at Schiller’s Camera for a month, what a joke. I moved on from photography related jobs to delivering pizza for Domino’s in a brand new 1991 Dodge Stealth, which eventually led to management training, and store management at both Domino’s Pizza and Pizza Chef (now known as Pizza World, where they are still in operation.) I worked in sales and management at Advanced Auto Alarm & Car Stereo for a number of years. Eventually I decided I wanted to work with food and people management a whole lot less and got a job doing telephone tech support for an ISP in Clayton, MO, which lead to learning HTML and some basic graphic design skills. This eventually led to a short stint of self-employment. I got lucky and met a potential client that actually needed their first full-time IT person. I got the job and became a system admin/network admin/security admin/help desk/web developer/software programmer for a long standing family-owned apparel business, where I stayed for 5 years.
This was a weird time. I spent a LOT of time working, especially during the “pizza years.” There were times that I worked 16 hour days 6 to 10 days in a row as a pizza manager. And when I moved into the IT world, I worked full time during the day and moonlighted another 8-10 hours writing code in my basement. I ate a lot of pizza, drank a lot of beer, and spent a lot of time chillin’ on couches and in parked cars “taking the edge off” with friends before getting a few hours sleep and heading back to whatever job or project. Great stories for future blogging.
Phase 3 : Age 28 to 44.9 – The Great Years
I met my wife and daughter-to-be at the age of 28, about 1/2 way through the 5 year stint with the apparel company in St. Louis. I moved from my childhood home in Maplewood to Kathy and Alyssa’s house just a few minutes away, where I lived for 2 years. I knew REAL QUICK that Kathy and Alyssa were my girls, and all I really needed for the rest of my life. I knew that I’d be proposing marriage to Kathy one day, and I promised her as much very early on.
It wasn’t long after my 30th birthday that we decided that we should probably start thinking about moving. We weren’t happy living next to a train yard in St. Louis. Alyssa was in 1st Grade at Epihany (Catholic School.) And, we were kind of outgrowing Kathy’s house… I brought 2 dogs, several fish tanks, and a while lot of IT with me. We shopped for a long time and finally decided on building a new house about 25 miles south of downtown St. Louis in Imperial, Missouri. Construction on our new home started in early 2002, and we moved into the new place at the end of August 2002, just before Alyssa started 2nd grade in the Windsor school district in Imperial.
I left the apparel company shortly after moving to Imperial. I stopped being an entire IT department and became a Database and Software Developer for a St. Louis firm, one I had done work for in the past during those evening hours moonlighting in the basement. Things went well for a couple of years until work started to dry up for my employer. Downsizing started and those of us that remained until the end began working from home, which meant moonlighting again for me. By the time the company went under completely, I had made the transition to working from home and started building my own software and web development client base.
I married my soul mate, Kathrine Marie Hodde (VanderHeyden) on April 3rd, 2004. I got the bonus package… I got Kathy’s daughter, Alyssa Troy VanderHeyden, as my own daughter out of the deal.
In 2007 I stopped working as an independent contractor and formed my first business, Fall River Solutions, LLC, a custom software and web development firm.
In 2013 I joined Guardian Medical Logistics as a software developer, system administrator, VOIP phone system administrator, and logistics software administrator, where I continue to write code and keep systems running, and people happy, today.
We lived in Imperial for 15 years, and like Phase 2 and Phase 3, I have a ton of great stories to share. Girl Scouts. The Windsor Golden Brigade Marching Band and our life as Band Parents. Alyssa’s first car. High school graduation. Fall River Solutions. PhocusGallery. Mizzou!
Phase 4 : Age 44.9 to NOW – The Current Phase
Early in 2017 we got a wild hair up our butts to move again. This time we decided we were done with subdivision life, immediate neighbors, and city culture. We started the move process in April 2017, and moved into our new home on 17 acres in Fletcher, Missouri, on July 18th, 2017. You can read about our decision to move by clicking here.
This was a big move, a big change.
The beginning of the next phase in the life of Jim Sparks.