My dad…when I think of him, I always feel such a sense of pride in who he was. He had lived so great a life, seen so many things, gone places, and while many people might not think his life was so grand, I did. My dad, Allen Spencer, was born on April 27, 1924 in Superior, Wisconsin, to Allen and Anna (Schumacher) Spencer. He was the third of their four children, and one of two rather mischievous boys. The family owned a farm, and the children helped with the chores there. His dad worked for the Great Northern Railroad as a carpenter, building and repairing the seats on the train, and any other carpentry work needed. That fact gave the children Laura, William (Bill), Allen (my dad), and Ruth, the unique privilege of having a pass to ride the train for free, as a dependent of their dad, making their trips to school easier, though not without adventure. As I said, the boys were mischievous, and boarding the train in the normal, everyday way was just too boring. They boys hopped on the moving train, every chance they got, always hoping not to be caught and scolded. They were told repeatedly not to hop on the train, because it was unsafe, but they were boys, and they liked the danger.
Growing up, the train adventures weren’t the only ones the boys had, and probably not the most dangerous either. When dad was about 15 and his brother, Uncle Bill about 17, the boys decided to take the summer and go look for work. They didn’t make reservations at hotels, or have previously lined up jobs, but rather hit the road and did odd jobs in the towns they came across. One time there was no room in the local hotel, so the local sheriff allowed them to sleep in the jail…the first and last time either of them was in jail, as far as I know. If I know my dad and my uncle, they thought it was a great adventure…even though their mother would have been appalled. Or maybe she would have been grateful to the sheriff for keeping her boys off the street.
When Dad was 17, he left home to go work at Douglas Aircraft Company in Santa Monica, California, building airplanes. I often wonder if it was his work there that made him a prime candidate for the position he held in World War II, as a top turret gunner and flight engineer on a B-17 based at Great Ashfield, Suffolk, England. I don’t know his thoughts on being in one of the countries where his ancestors had hailed from, but to my genealogist’s eyes, it would have been the best gift ever given…had it not been for the war, of course. To find himself in the “old stomping grounds” of many of his ancestors…well, it would have been beyond awesome. Dad, decided that he didn’t need much, and so he sent most of his pay home to be put in saving, telling his mom, that if she needed it, she was to use it, because he could always get a job when he got home. In war, times are tough, and Dad wanted to make sure that his family, back home in Superior was well and had enough money to get by. During his R and R time, Dad spent time in Miami, Florida and Galveston, Texas, and of course his training for service had taken place on several air bases across the United States. Dad had always loved to travel, so I’m sure his wanderer’s heart took great pleasure in the many locations he found himself in.
It was, in fact, his wanderer’s heart that brought him across the path of my Aunt Virginia and her husband at the time. She later introduced him to her sister and his future wife, my mom, Collene Byer. Mom was totally smitten by Dad, immediately thinking that he was the most handsome man she had ever seen. Before long, she loved him immensely, but she was a school girl, and had to wait a while to actually marry him. As was more common in those days, my dad was twelve years older than my mom, but theirs was a love that would last until his passing in 2007. Even after his passing, Mom had no desire to see anyone else. She just couldn’t imagine it. He was the only love of her life.
Dad never lost the love of travel, though his married life settled him first for several years in Superior, Wisconsin, and the for the rest of his life in Casper, Wyoming. He wanted to show his family the places he loved, most importantly the United States. He often told us that this was a beautiful country, and not only should we try to see it, we should drive, because you could see much more from the ground than from a plane. Of course, for most of us time constraints don’t allow for cross country drives, but after the flight to get there, we try to see the area surrounding our destination. Dad, I’m certain, would have viewed that type of travel with a measure of skepticism. Still, he loved to hear about our travels. He always seemed to have a far away look on his face, because he could picture the same place in his mind…you see, he had most likely been there before, and he was so happy that we had followed in his footsteps. Today would have been my dad’s 96th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Dad. I know you and Mom are having a wonderful time. We love and miss you very much and can’t wait to see you again.