SPARTA , Mich. — Our trip to Sparta dug out plenty of history, especially surrounding World War II. Unfortunately, some of it was family tragedy, but is surrounded by a story that is probably not well-known.
I remember my mom and dad telling me the story of The Fighting Sullivans during the war (get more information on them here). They had five sons that were all killed in World War II. Since that time, the government (military) changed their rules for siblings serving in war that no family should ever have to bear that type of loss again. That said, about the same time the Lamoreaux family from Sparta had their own battle to fight.
The all American family of the Lamoreauxs had four sons and two daughters with three blue stars hanging in their front window…one for each son in the war. January 21, 1944 was the first bad news to arrive at their doorstep. 21-year-old army private Donald was killed in Italy. One blue star was replaced by a gold star…signifying an enlisted family member had died. November 10, 1944, 20-year-old army private Howard was killed in the Philippines. A second gold star now appeared with one blue star left for Al Lamoreaux.
In a desperate attempt to get Al off the battlefield (similar to the movie Saving Private Ryan), they could not reach him in time. Army sergeant Al died in Germany on February 6, 1945. All three stars in the front window of the Lamoreaux household were now gold. Years later in 1957, a park dedication was held and granite figures were installed at Lamoreaux park in Sparta for the dedication, service, and patriotism each one provided for the United States. The park stands today with a playground for new generations to remember their sacrifice.
Being in West Michigan, apple growers saw an unusually good fruit crop in 1944. The problem? Most of the men who usually did the harvest were away at war. So Sparta went to the Federal Government for help. The response was a German POW camp that was erected directly across the street from the Lamoreaux house (by coincidence). Remarkably, the family never harbored any negative feelings toward the prisoners of war or at the camp. Subsequently, the POW’s were used to harvest the fruit crops that season. It actually was a win win for most of the fruit growers since, they too, were German and could easily communicate with the POW’s.
The other thing we found in Sparta was an old schoolhouse built-in the 1800s at the corner of 13 Mile and Division. It’s home to several artifacts and military items and is open to the public the first Sunday and each month from May through November. The Sparta Historical Commission hopes to eventually move the military portion of the museum to their research center downtown and replace the vacancy with an extensive donated collection of sports memorabilia. Click here for more information.
The other thing that caught our eye was Brown’s Opera House built-in 1911. It’s currently home to the North Kent Eagles on the lower level, but the upper level (where the opera house is) is completely in tact and unchanged with the seating, wood floor, stage, and hand-painted murals in great condition. Click here for the township website.