Clarence Ross “Sonny” Spharler Jr. loved two things: doing what he could to help others and fixing watches.
Spharler, of Pine Bluff, died June 27 at the age of 82 in the town where he was born on Nov. 15, 1930.
Known as “The Watchmaker”, Spharler spent 67 years performing minor miracles with timepieces, first as an assistant and later as the proprietor of Spharler’s Jewelry, which was first opened by his father next to the downtown train station in 1936.
Spharler’s sister JoAnn Bussey remembers her brother as a man always on the go in service to others.
“While fixing watches was his job, what he did for everybody during his free time was out of the goodness of his heart,” Bussey said. “What my brother did for others wasn’t his job; he just made it his job. He went to Jenkins and gave them fruit and played his harmonica for them. He went to nursing homes to visit with people.”
It is obvious that Bussey loved her brother immensely.
“No one was ever luckier than I was to have a brother and a family like I had,” Bussey said. “When I was 14 years old, Sonny would take me with him to Little Rock to Robinson Music Hall to hear gospel and country-western music. He bought me my first malt.”
Bussey said all of the time she spent with her brother in his later years after his health turned was anything but a burden.
“I took Sonny out to eat dinner and lunch at Sno-White’s and Rooster’s at least three or four times a week,” Bussey said. “People would say thank you for taking care of Sonny. I know they were trying to pay me a compliment, but I almost took it as an insult. Sonny was my brother and I loved being with him.”
Bussey said that Bob Rhinehart with the local Kiwanis Club gave her something at Spharler’s visitation.
“Bob came up to me and said, ‘I want to give you something that I wasn’t able to give Sonny,’” Bussey said. “He earned a 44-year perfect attendance pin at Kiwanis and Bob wanted me to have it.”
“One of Sonny’s friends once said to him, ‘you belong to too many organizations,’” Bussey said. “Sonny replied, ‘I would rather wear out than rust out.’”
Bussey said her brother also worked with Eagle Scouts.
“Sonny loved his church (First Baptist),” Bussey said. “The Sunday before he passed away, I drove him to church because he wanted to be there. It was sheer effort for him because he was so weak, but he wanted to go and so I took him.”
As for his abilities with chronographs, to say they were legendary might just be apt.
“I can’t tell you the hundreds of people who say there is nowhere to go anymore to get the kind of service that Sonny provided,” Bussey said. “The shop has been closed for more than two years and I still have people wanting to know where to go to get their watch fixed.”
Bobby Garner is the owner of Sno-White Grill and Spharler was one of his regulars.
“I’ve been at Sno-White for 43 years and Sonny was there long before me,” Garner said. “Until he got sick about six months ago, he was there every time I opened. I don’t think he ever missed a day. He was so particular with his breakfasts. He always wanted sausage and eggs and his eggs had to be done, done, done.
“One thing I’ll remember most about him is that he was always coming by picking up burgers to take to the older people,” Garner said. “Nobody, and I mean nobody, could ever compare with Sonny. He lived to do things for others. He was so dedicated to taking care of other people.
“I started missing him after he got sick and came to the restaurant just occasionally,” Garner said. “I know I’ll really be missing him now. Knowing him and having him for a friend was such a big honor. I think the best way to pay tribute to Sonny is to try to follow his example: to never let an opportunity to do something to help someone go by. That’s a wonderful way for anyone to be remembered.”
Lynn Gaines is a long-time Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Historical Museum volunteer receptionist and guide.
“Sonny’s store was just a couple of doors down from the museum,” Gaines said. “He always helped the museum whenever he could. He sold tickets for us whenever we were having fundraising events. He was a friend to everyone and did a lot of charity work. He was always doing what he could to help others. That was who he was. For the museum, he was a great friend and neighbor. That’s how we’ll remember him.”
Spharler is survived by his sisters, Betty Lee Hughes Floyd, Joyce Gothcer, Patsy Baber, Mary Lou Taylor and JoAnn Bussey; brother, Larry Joe Spharler; as well as many nieces and nephews.