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A Place of Her Own: Sparky Still Shines in Fourth Decade at MC

Laura Bakopolus, ’13,  Staff Writer

Her real name is Cynthia Ouellette. About 25 years ago, when she worked in the Warrior’s Den (which, she explains, used to be in the basement — you get a gold medal if you already knew that), her manager made up a nickname for her that, as she describes, “just stuck.”

Even after all these years, we still call her Sparky.

What’s in a name? This particular nickname carries with it a lot of love and respect, to say the least. Sparky loves her nickname and is delighted that the name caught on: “There is a worker in the Den whose name is Cindy, so when they would say Cynthia, we would sometimes get confused because the names are so close. But when they say ‘Sparky,’ everyone knows who they’re talking about!”

It’s true — everyone knows and loves Sparky for her friendly disposition, her willingness to help all the students, and her smile that can brighten up anyone’s day.

Coworker Gina Silva affirmed that Sparky “makes everyone smile, always wants to help everyone, and absolutely loves her job.”

Even the mention of Sparky’s name brought a smile to Silva’s face. “She’s an angel,” Silva added as an afterthought, a statement with which the entire student body would have to agree.

And they do. Junior Kayla Hennigan stated, “Sparky’s always happy, which puts everyone around her in a good mood. She’s such a hard worker, and seeing her walking around the cafe talking to everyone always makes me smile.”

Fellow Junior Brian Lundstrom concurred: “Sparky always asks you how you’re doing, which makes you feel important. She’s always interested in the students and tries to make sure that we’re all happy and content. She’s just so cheerful – it’s contagious.”

Yet another student was in agreement; junior Kala Coleman raved, “Sparky is so genuine and sweet. It’s impossible not to like her!”

Sparky is now 53 years old and as sprightly as ever. She will be turning 54 on April 29, so be sure to say happy birthday when you go to eat at the cafeteria that day.

She has been a member of Merrimack’s Dining Services staff for 33 years, meaning she was a mere 20 years old when she started working here. Imagine applying to work at Sparky’s Place tomorrow — and staying for the next 33 years.

If you felt the same way Sparky does, you would be thrilled.

Sparky explained that she originally trained at Lawrence Rehabilitation, and when she interviewed to work at Merrimack, she was pleased to recall that “they begged me to start working here the next day.”

It is easy to see why her boss wanted her to be a part of the Dining Services team right away. Sparky’s mother works with her here as well, but is currently on a leave of absence since she had developed cancer. Luckily, her cancer is “all gone now,” and she is building up the strength to come back.

Sparky grew up in Lawrence, right near Central Catholic High School.

She knows Central Athletic Director Peter Paladino, since he used to be the assistant director of athletics at Merrimack from 1988 to 1997 after graduating from here in 1986. She also was eager to say that she knows Central’s girls varsity basketball coach Sue Downer, another Merrimack graduate.

It would be safe to say that Sparky is very personable and keeps a close relationship with all those who pass through her life. Two people with whom she also keeps a close relationship are her brothers, ages 58 and 43. They had a wonderful childhood together and even into their adult lives, their bonds remain unbreakable, she noted.

These relationships are what keep Sparky so engaged with life. Her favorite part of working at Merrimack is “the customer relations and the Sodexo people as a team,” since she is good friends with her coworkers and loves to make friends with all of Merrimack’s students.

She declared: “The customers are my favorite part of my job — totally. I love coming in here and doing customer communications.”

And her great human relations skills have motivated her bosses to consider her the “middle man,” since the students feel comfortable talking with her. She then relays students’ feelings to her superiors, who implement her suggestions as best they can. For example, she once heard that customers like plain chicken patties, so she told the chefs and within a few weeks, they were on the menu.

You might wonder what Sparky does for fun. She loves watching Boston Red Sox games, which was an easy topic to discuss since she was interviewed the day the Red Sox mascot Wally the Green Monster came to visit Merrimack. Sparky was all decked out in a Red Sox jersey and navy Red Sox cap, and was overjoyed to be so close to her favorite mascot. Sparky also loves the Bruins, who she got to see live last year, an experience she could only describe as “awesome.”

Her new hobby is Facebook, which she likes because of the great “communication with friends.” One of her good friends got her an iPad for Christmas, so she enjoys going on Facebook to relax and talk with friends after a long day at work. She likes listening to rap and rock music, and since a fellow Sodexo worker has been out sick for a while, Sparky has taken over radio duty, keeping the station tuned into 106.3 Frank FM, since she likes this type of music but also knows that the customers enjoy hearing the music in the background.

You can catch Sparky working Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., but eight and a half hours a day is not enough for her — she always comes in early. She explained, “I come early to help out and see what’s going on for the day, and if I need to take care of business, I take care of business.”

She added, “Once I’m on the clock, I’m all Sodexo.”

Sparky’s love for her job was obvious when she exclaimed, “I can’t wait to come into work every day.”

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