Legacy Build 2010 – Homeowner Maria Sparkman

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Maria Sparkman’s home on Churchman Avenue will be renovated as part of the Millard Fuller Legacy Build 2010. It will be one of 15 rehabilitation projects completed as part of the build. Read her story below.

Homeowner story submitted by Kipp Normand of SEND (Southeast Neighborhood Development – Indianapolis, Ind.) partnering with the Central Indiana Fuller Center for Housing for the Millard Fuller Legacy Build 2010. Read more about the partnership here.

Maria Sparkman has a beautiful smile and a house filled with family photographs and the aroma of delicious food. She sits in her bright kitchen and talks about her neighborhood with a sense of hopefulness. That’s a recent development, one she credits to the steadfast work and dedication of her neighborhood association.

Maria does not like to complain, and you have to ask her to tell you about the time when she did not feel so hopeful about her neighborhood. There is a lot to see on Churchman Avenue and Maria has lived there for a long time. She has seen it all.

Maria moved to Indianapolis from Texas in 1962. She got a job working at a factory on Keystone Avenue where they manufactured glass bottles. In 1966 she found an apartment on Churchman Avenue so she could walk to work. Maria says most of the people who worked at the factory lived nearby and she felt a sense of community. Maria met her future husband at the Glass Factory. Bill Sparkman was a supervisor there and his gentle manner and kindness to the workers endeared him to Maria. They fell in love and were married.

In 1973 Bill and Maria bought a house on Churchman Avenue. "It needed a lot of work," Maria recalls. They lived in Maria’s old apartment and every night after work at the Glass Factory they went to their new house to clean and paint the rooms. They made that house into a home where they raised their five children and eventually cared for most of their nine grandchildren. But none of that was easy.

Maria says that very early on, even while they were preparing to move into their house, the surrounding neighborhood began to fall apart. As the elderly residents died, or moved away they were replaced with people who struggled with hardships. Drunkenness, domestic violence, drugs and malice of all sorts moved into the neighborhood like a cancer. Through the 1970s, 80s and into the early 90s the streets were a whirl of increasing chaos and violence. One Sunday morning her children witnessed a murder while walking to church. They were traumatized. Maria was attacked several times very close to her home. Once a strange man, probably crazed on crack, rushed out of the alley and tried to push her down an open manhole.

"I cried out ‘Oh God please help me!’" She shakes her head. "I felt like this was a forsaken place. No one would help us." Maria says that even the police did not seem to care what happened on Churchman Avenue.

Maria managed to escape from the man in the alley that day. But the misfortunes of Churchman Avenue continued unabated. Gunshots were common. Maria points to bullet holes in her house and talks about how her grandson would duck down to the floor shaking when he heard the shots. He would look at her with tear-filled eyes and ask, "Are your windows bulletproof, Grandma?" There was a lot to see on Churchman Avenue.

"When they closed the Glass Factory down, I really grieved because most of those people were my friends." Maria says that’s when things started to get really bad. How did she and her family persevere through those terrible experiences?

She points to a photograph in which she is a dark-haired beauty surrounded by her husband and a bevy of smiling children. She looks around and says "This is my home and God has been my comfort. There were bad times but now our voice is heard."

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