By Todd Travis
Last week, Tom Sponsel and his family were recognized by the Perry Township Education Foundation for their contributions to the schools over the past 30 years. Sponsel said he was “just doing his part” and that “it’s a big team effort that makes it all work.” The PTEF was founded in 1994, and Sponsel joined in 1995. “My wife (Barbara) is actually responsible for me joining,” he said. “She was very involved with the PTA at the middle school and high school level, and she was on the PTA council. She got me involved with various activities and it filtered up from there.” Tom and Barbara’s kids went to St. Barnabas Catholic Elementary School before switching over to Perry Township Schools. “We really believe in the community and doing things that make the community better. We felt it was important to do what we could to give support to the schools,” Sponsel continued. He and his family moved to the Southside in 1980 and have been committed to the schools since then.
Sponsel served on the PTEF board for 10 years, including eight years as treasurer and two years as the president. He also was a member of the finance team for those 10 years. In addition, Sponsel’s CPA firm provided discounted accounting services to the foundation for 20 years. To go further, Sponsel also participated in the capital campaign committee, which helped attract private funding for school projects. He also chaired the community referendum committee for three separate referendums and served as the president of the building corporations that were required to issue bonds which funded facility expansion. He is still the president of the 1983 and 1986 building corporations. It’s not hard to see why Sponsel and his family are being recognized as these contributions are mentioned. Still, he graciously gives credit to the team effort. “I’m humbled,” said Sponsel. “I’ve always believed that there’s no ‘I’ in team. Everything that I’ve done has been done as a team. Like I said, my wife got me into it, and I think of all the others who served on the different committees and boards I served on. The most important thing is that we did it as a team, and we did it unselfishly. It was about the purpose we were dedicated to,” he explained.
The driving force behind so many of these efforts is the success of the schools, the staff, the students and everyone involved. “When the PTEF was founded and my wife and I were asked to serve on the board of directors, we started to see more of an intimate view of what the needs were in the classroom and how we could make an impact,” Sponsel recalled. “It was really an eye-opener. Then the next year when you could see the outcome of some of the projects we were working on, it was very rewarding. You could see some of the innovation that was being done and how it was making it fun for the kids to be in school,” he continued. One person who inspired Sponsel was Larry Borst, who was one of the first board of directors of the foundation. He set up an endowment fund in honor of his parents, who were both schoolteachers. “Through the years, he stayed always very tied into the education foundation and whenever he was asked to come, he would do that. I think it’s important to promote the longevity of service,” Sponsel described.
When asked what advice Sponsel would give to others, he gave very simple advice: “Take an active interest in the schools. Our population has changed a lot over the years, and we have a lot more representation in the schools, which is a good thing. It makes us stronger. So parents should just ask the question, ‘How can I help?’ and just get involved,” he said. As a member of the Southside population himself, Sponsel knows how important having good school systems is for members of the community. “As a homeowner and a longtime resident of this community I know how important it is for property values and quality of life it is to have an excellent school system with excellent facilities. We all have something we can contribute to our schools and our community, and every little bit helps,” he continued.
The benefit of being involved in the school systems goes beyond just the success and improvement of schools. When people join together for a common cause they begin to build relationships with one another that can really grow and develop over time. Some of them can even turn into lifelong relationships. One such relationship that was created is between the Sponsel family and board member Chuck Stumpf. Sponsel commented that Stumpf actually deserves the recognition from the foundation, but Stumpf said, “That’s just Tom.” Stumpf started serving on the board with Sponsel in 1998. “Tom’s an amazing guy because he’s just nonstop,” Stumpf mentioned. “Everyone tends to look up to him because he’s a great leader. I’ve always enjoyed working with him. He’s a good friend, and I really respect him. This recognition is actually long overdue for the Sponsels.” During the recognition, Stumpf spoke about how the involvement of not only Sponsel, but his wife and daughter just speaks to the family itself. “Their values are entrenched in education,” he said. Tom’s daughter Natalie served on the board for a while and currently serves on the finance committee for the foundation. His son TJ is also very active in his contributions to his community as well.
One of the final thoughts Sponsel shared about his experience serving Perry Township Schools is the message of hope. “I get sentimental about this because this type of work gives people hope. A lot of people don’t get all the support and encouragement that they need. You can go back to the communities you grew up in and say, ‘I came from where you came from, and I’m doing just fine and so can you,'” he said. The people who are doing this work are giving back to their communities and finding ways to support. They’re giving back and making a difference. Sponsel and his family have modeled this for so many and have left a legacy for others to continue to uphold.