Maxwell resident Rose Sparks recently celebrated her 40th birthday. Many of us have marked or will mark that milestone in our own lives. For Rose, however, turning 40 is only one of the major milestones she’s celebrated in recent years.

She was having a small get-together for her birthday, but she had an even bigger celebration back in 2018, when on Feb. 9 of that year, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States. On that day, she joined about 65 to 70 other people, representing at least 25 countries, at the Neal Smith Federal Building in Des Moines. They each were asked to answer questions drawn (like a lottery system, she noted) that day. After a year of studying with a book and a CD, Rose said the questions she had to answer were “easy.”

“They asked me who is the current president. I said, Donald Trump. They asked me who are the senators from Iowa, like Grassley, and … about what is the meaning of the red and white in the (U.S.) flag? It’s about the 13 colonies,” she said.

Rose’s story of coming to the United States begins back in 2010. That was when longtime Collins and Maxwell-area resident Rod Sparks, who has lived all over the country and abroad, met her in her home country of Hong Kong at a little crab cafe where she was working.

Working in the concrete industry, Rod was in Hong Kong for work. It wasn’t an instant love connection, he said, but over the course of four to six months, as he was in Hong Kong or back and forth to Hong Kong, the connection between him and Rose was growing.

“He’s a good man, a hard worker, caring and down to earth,” Rose said of the qualities that attracted her to Rod.

At first, Rod joked about why he asked her to marry him. “She started crying when I was leaving Hong Kong,” he said. Then he admitted, “I loved her.”

He filed for something called a “K1” visa. “It’s a marriage visa,” he said. It took nine months for it to be processed and for her to be able to join him in the United States. He was working in Texas when the time finally came, and they noted that once she got here, they only had so much time to tie the knot.

Rod explained the situation to a worker at the hotel he was staying at in Texas, and “she arranged everything for our wedding.”

Rose traveled around the country with Rod at first. In fact, their son, Rod Wayne, who they call “RW,” was born in Missouri.

In 2015, they finally settled down in Maxwell. Rod’s mother, Clara, lives in Maxwell, and his Uncle Martin (now deceased) was the person who invited them to come to the Maxwell Presbyterian Church.

That church has become extremely important to them, especially to Rose, who said she was used to having lots of family members around in Hong Kong, especially to cook for. Now, the members of her church have become her extended family.

Karen Plunkett is one member of the church who has become very close to Rose. “She sits behind me at church every Sunday,” Plunkett said. “She’s just so sweet and nice to everyone.”

Plunkett shared that at one of the first church dinners Rose was involved with, she was a tireless worker in the kitchen, and when she had her citizenship party, Plunkett added, her boss from Diamond Crystal Foods said she’s the best worker he’s ever had.

Rose is a machine operator at Diamond Crystal Foods in Mitchellville. And along with studying to gain her citizenship in recent years, she and Rod have also worked tirelessly to bring her oldest son, John Karl, to America. He had lived with Rose’s mother since her departure from Hong Kong, and last July he was finally reunited with his mother, his new brother, and Rod, who is now working to legally adopt him. The couple also said they want John Karl to go through the naturalization process, like his mother, so he’ll have the pride that she does in being an American citizen.

“You could really write a book about our story,” Rod said. Rose’s own family, he noted, is a story in itself. Rod said his in-laws are an “incredible” family, and Rose isn’t the only one of her siblings living outside her home country. The family has four sisters living in four different countries.

“Her family raised their children to be smart and have the ability to go global, which I think is really cool,” he said.

Rose said the biggest difference she sees between America and Hong Kong is that “in Hong Kong, we just walk everywhere. Here, you drive.” Rod nods in total agreement. “You are right about that, Rose,” he said.

Learning to drive was another milestone moment Rose accomplished after arriving in America. They hired a driving instructor for her and she got her driver’s license in 2012.

The thing she misses most about her native home, she said, is “the ocean. I want to go in the ocean and go get fish.” She also misses the farm she grew up on, where they had so many homegrown things to get any time you wanted. Rod noted she now has a little garden plot at their home in Maxwell.

Rose said she feels at home in Maxwell. “It’s a beautiful hometown, quiet, not crowded and the people are friendly.”

Her mother-in-law Clara lives close by and is very happy to have Rose in the family. “She’s a lovely child and I’m glad I got her. And Rod needed her. It’s a joy.”

The pastor at the Maxwell Presbyterian Church, Ian McMullen, also joined the recent birthday party and has become a good friend to the Sparks. He’s been very impressed by Rose. “It’s her spirit of determination,” he said, of what most impresses him most. “Given a task, she will complete it regardless. And I love the joy that she has always. She’s always smiling and happy.”