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Monday, May 27, 2024

INTERESTING FOLKS: Arnold ‘Sparky’ Heath

Arnold Heath, 83, of Allamuchy, is a local woodworker, expert tracker and self-made man who once resided nearby.

He’s also famously known as “Sparky”. A good friend gave him the name after he got hit by lightning, not once, but twice. Sparky had big brown eyes and after this accident his eye color changed to blue. He enjoys music and dancing and is often seen on the dance floor all night.

Sparky grew up in Rockaway, where he met his beloved wife, Charlotte. They were married 60 years before Charlotte passed away. They married young. Charlotte was sixteen and he was eighteen. They raised five boys together – Walter, Charles, George, Arnie and Shawn. “My boys are my friends, and we all grew up together,” Sparky explained.

He also often lived in very rural settings throughout the area. Sparky taught his boys how to be hard working, self-sufficient men. They hunted, fished, gardened, foraged for herbs and roots, as well as worked on cars, rode horses, and trained bird dogs.

The family trapped Muskrat and Mink in many of the streams from Rockaway to the Delaware Water Gap. Sparky, an expert trapper, helped the Rockaway police capture criminals by tracking them through the woods.

When his boys were old enough to work, they helped their dad in his tree business. They grew up strong and confident. The boys helped dad in his stone business, crafting beautiful stone walls and fireplaces. “I didn’t send them to college, but I educated them all.” he boasted.

Sparky’s love for animals inspired him to train hunting dogs and work as an assistant to a veterinarian for seven years. He enjoyed this work but longed for exciting tree work and stonework. Sparky always provided for his family. If he needed work, he would knock on doors asking homeowners if they wanted a tree cut down or some landscaping done.

Sparky made and sold hundreds of grape vine wreaths that he and his wife made in the winter months. Together, they sold antiques and collectables at flea markets.

A true artist, Sparky made time to express himself through woodworking. “I have spent most of my young life in the woods, my carving comes naturally to me.” Sparky said. His collection of walking sticks was given to his youngest son Shawn, who proudly displays them in his home.

Sparky picks just the right stick, usually White Maple. This is a strong wood and if the bark is stripped off right away it comes off easily. No reference material is used. Sparky just looks at the piece of wood and sees the design manifest as he starts to carve. The sticks are carved, then stained with instant coffee.

Coffee brings out the wood grain and enhancing the color. Each walking stick is unique and are priceless heirlooms. To finish the sticks, they are sprayed with polyurethane. This process involves sanding the stick with 150 and then 220-grit sandpaper. Many layers of polyurethane and sanding ensure the smooth look of the sticks.

Some sticks are accented with acrylics, like the ‘Totem Pole’ walking stick. ‘The Storyteller’ has each carving depicting a scene in his life. Some walking sticks have one hundred hours of work in them.

The ‘Santa Stick’ represents Sparky’s seasonal job at the Rockaway Mall where he played Santa for 21 years. Sparky’s big blue eyes and long beard, died white, made him the perfect Santa. This led to his appearing as one of the Guest Santas on the ‘Letterman Show.’

A quote from Sparky “If I wrote a book, it would be called Chicken Today…. Feathers Tomorrow.” It wryly means sometimes you have plenty of money for a chicken dinner and sometimes you just have the feathers.

“Sparky’s sticks tell a story” Photo Credit: MB Journe
Yelens Choban
MB Journe, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

MB has been a resident of Frelinghuysen for the past 22 years. She lives in an old farmhouse on the side of the road. She enjoys the simple life, puttering in her flower garden, practicing Qi Gong under her redbud tree, or creating art on the deck.
MB's experience as a journalist began when her son was quite young, she began writing for The Paulinskill Valley Chronicle, often bringing him to work with her. Her responsibilities were writing articles with photos, selling ads, and billing. This suited her, as a single mother not wanting to be separated from her small child.

She considers herself a lover of nature, often seen photographing its beauty. She has worked as a seasonal employee of YMCA Camp Mason for the past 17 years. She is a teacher and mentor of children, always emphasizing the YMCA’s core values - caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. She tries to listen carefully to each individual she interviews, getting their viewpoint. That is why she likes to write about the interesting people and places that make Warren County such a nice place to live.