Not everyone can say they have had a job that helped change so many lives. For those who have, they know how rewarding the feeling is.
KC Board of Trustee R.E. “Sonny” Spradlin Jr. has been working to improve the Kilgore community and college for almost 30 years, beginning his service in 1983. He is completing his fifth six-year term and plans to retire after the May election.
Spradlin came to Kilgore when he was a baby in May 1931. He graduated from Kilgore High School and then moved on to KC, attending from 1949-1951 until he was drafted into the Army, serving two years.
“I graduated from Kilgore College in 1951 and our graduation ceremony was held in front of the Old Main building on the grass with temporary folding chairs,” Spardlin said as he smiled, reminiscing.
Spradlin married Betty Bird, a former Rangerette. They have four sons, Kilgore mayor R.E. “Ronnie” Spradlin III, Donald “Don” Spradlin, Jon Spradlin and Lon Spradlin.
Spradlin Sr. founded East Texas Lumber in the early 1930s. For over 80 years it’s been in the Spradlin family, being passed down from father to son through three generations.
Spradlin loves KC and continually tries to connect the college to the community. Looking back, he still remembers being pressured into running for the Board.
“My good friend, Bob Barbee, kept pestering me to run,” Spradlin said. “I told him ‘no’ at least 10 times, but he kept coming back.”
Prior to his service as a KC trustee, Spradlin, served on the Kilgore ISD Board for five years. He is a fiscal conservative who truly has a heart to serve.
“My daddy told me when I was a kid that if you can help one young person in your lifetime you’ve paid some rent on your trip through this old life,” Spradlin said.
He has served under four of the eight presidents in KC history: Stewart McLaurin, Bert Woodruff, Frank Thornton and Holda.
“Mr. Spradlin has always been an avid supporter of mine and was instrumental in me being named president,” Holda said. “I have considered him more than a Board member; I consider him a friend.”
Spradlin’s goal for being on the Board was to help students, making sure every dime of KC’s money was spent with the students’ best interest in mind. He credits his meticulous studying of the budget to his passion for arithmetic.
“My daddy always told me if you look after the pennies, the dollars take care of themselves,” Spradlin said.
Being the modest man that he is, Spradlin recognizes that he couldn’t have accomplished anything alone. The Board has always had nine members and they act as one. He stressed he was only a small part of each good thing that has happened at the college.
“Moving (some classes) to Longview was a good move because it increased our student numbers,” Spradlin said. “Hiring Dr. Holda was one of the best things I can remember doing while on the Board.”
He was most proud of the college students graduating and going on to other places and being successful.
However, he is disappointed more students do not take advantage of the higher education offered in their own hometown.
“These kids have a wonderful golden opportunity to get an education here and a lot of them don’t take advantage of it,” Spradlin said. “So many students don’t come back once they have their money, such as financial aid.”
Spradlin also mentioned he was very proud of the dual-credit classes high school students are allowed to take. He believes it can speed up a student’s time in college and save a lot of money.
“I think it is wonderful that a kid can come out of high school and know they have saved 10 to 30 thousand dollars. It’s crazy to me and I don’t see why they don’t all do it,” he said.
His love for saving money and covering the budget from beginning to end has earned Spradlin the title of “watch dog” among his fellow trustees. He wasn’t particularly in charge of the finances, but he was the most interested.
“A lot of things go on here at Kilgore College and if you don’t look at that budget closely, you lose track of what is happening,” Spradlin said. “The budget is quite lengthy if you go through all of it and I always did. Trust me, I have looked at a few budgets the last 30 years.”
Over the years, he has gone from a KC student to KC Board member, helping to improve the college along the way.
“He will be an enduring part of the history of this institution. I am proud to be his friend and… I thank Sonny for his service, for his love of Kilgore College, for being consistently vigilant regarding the role of the Board, for always looking out for the finances and for spending countless hours pouring over the budgets,” Holda said.
After the May election, Spradlin plans to retire and spend all his newly found free time with his wife at home.
“My wife is a sweet lady. She has put up with me for all these years, and I want to stay home and enjoy my time with her,” Spradlin said.
Spradlin may be stepping down from the Board, but he still cares about KC.
“I’ll miss it every day after I leave. I like to see the young people and for them to do well,” Spradlin said. “My goal was to help at least one student during my time on the Board, and I feel I have.”