GALETON — How do you have a memorial for someone who died at a young age, before their life really began? Jackie and Ray Sprouse, of Galeton, had to grapple with that after their son died at age 13.
Parker Sprouse was a boy who loved to read. By the time he was 12, he had over 1,500 books.
“Most kids want toys, but not him. He wanted books,” Jackie Prouty Sprouse, Parker’s mom, said.
Right from his premature birth, Parker had many health problems. He was in the hospital for the first four months of his life. He struggled to gain weight and his bones were very fragile.
Jackie and Ray homeschooled Parker, and no one came to the house during cold and flu season.
“Anytime he would get any kind of viral illness, it would affect his liver and he’d end up having some kind of seizure,” Jackie said, which would require hospitalization.
Parker had chronic nystagmus, so he couldn’t see very well. He was on multiple medications, but always had a smile on his face, which was usually buried in a book.
“He was very, very happy and always smiling, always enthusiastic about everything,” Jackie said. “He really had a great little spirit.”
About three years ago, doctors told his parents that Parker had childhood interstitial lung disease.
After a year of testing, it was discovered he was aspirating. They started Parker on VitalStim therapy to strengthen his swallowing muscles, but the closest place for the therapy was in Wilkes-Barre. For three and a half months, Jackie drove Parker 900 miles a week for therapy.
People heard about his health struggles again and sent him gift cards. Everyone knew his favorite was Barnes and Noble.
“It didn’t matter how many times we took him there. As soon as he walked in, he’d be like, ‘Whoa, I love this place, this is so awesome!’ and everyone around him would be so happy to see his enthusiasm,” Jackie said.
Last year, Jackie and Ray had an addition put on their house, which included a new bedroom and library for Parker. When asked what he wanted the theme of his room to be, Parker told them he wanted it to be “Parker’s Rainforest Little Free Library.” Jackie painted a rainforest mural on the walls.
“He just loved it in there,” Jackie said.
Parker caught influenza A in mid-March. He was hospitalized, then transferred to Hershey Medical Center when his condition worsened. He died March 22.
After his death, Jackie and her cousin were brainstorming ways to honor Parker and came across littlefreelibrary.org. Little Free Library is a non profit neighborhood book exchange. It’s a little library, usually on a post.
Children can take out books at one Little Free Library, read it and exchange it for another book, or put in some of their own. Worldwide, there are 80,000 registered Little Free Library book-sharing boxes, which can be located on a map on the website.
Jackie said that Parker named his own library “Parker’s Rainforest Little Free Library” without ever hearing about the book-share program. She thought if everyone in the family put a Little Free Library where they lived, it would be a nice way to remember her son.
The first of many Parker Sprouse Little Free Libraries was put up a few weeks ago in Galeton, across from the post office. Jackie’s dad, Tom Prouty, built it and Jackie helped decorate it.
“Parker loved the Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America … so on the side we wrote, ‘Be a superhero, be kind to someone today,’ because that’s how he was, kind to everybody he met,” Jackie said.
The books in the library are from Parker’s room. Jackie and Ray put labels inside so people know it’s in memory of Parker.
“That didn’t even make a dent in his library,” Jackie said.
Ray is working on two other libraries; one for Packer Park in Wellsboro. They hope to have one in most of the neighboring towns, plus in any area that a family member would like. Each person can decorate it how they please.
Though Parker’s life was unfairly cut short, he managed to touch countless people’s lives.
Jackie said since he died, multiple people have told them he was just a little ray of sunshine. More than 240 people attended his funeral and the Sprouses received almost 300 cards.
“I know all parents think their child is wonderful and amazing — and they are — but he really was exceptional because he just brought so much joy to others,” Jackie said.
For more information on Little Free Library, or to purchase your own, visit littlefreelibrary.org. Books can be donated in memory of Parker to any of the Parker Sprouse Little Free Libraries.