Denfeld News

August 25, 2013
Duluth News Tribune

Community activist, World War II vet Bill Spehar of Duluth dies
By John Lundy

William “Bill” Spehar was devoted to God, family and community, and he also possessed a lively sense of humor, family members say.

“He was very mischievous, actually, very funny,” said Elizabeth Spehar of Duluth, one of Spehar’s 12 grandchildren. “He always enjoyed a good joke.”

Spehar, a World War II veteran and longtime community activist in the Gary-New Duluth neighborhood, died on Aug. 19. He was 90.

A lifelong Duluth resident and 1942 graduate of Denfeld High School, Spehar was in the first graduating class at the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1947. When he began his college education, the school still was known as Duluth State Teachers College.

He joined the military in 1943, serving in the 42nd Rainbow Division in the Rhineland and Central Europe. His unit was awarded a presidential citation for its role in helping liberate prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp.

Spehar married Suntina Moretto in 1947. They lived at Peary Street and 98th
Avenue West in Gary-New Duluth for 52 years, raising seven children. He worked as an Electrolux salesman and then as an employment counselor with the State of Minnesota Job Service for 32 years. He served on various city boards, commissions, task forces and focus groups and was named to the Duluth Hall of Fame by Mayor John Fedo in 1987.

Spehar’s strong Catholic faith sustained him through his wartime service and beyond, family members said.

“His faith in Christ was paramount to him,” said son Mark Spehar of Duluth. “He would tell stories from his experience in World War II where he would sometimes be in the midst of battle and he would be praying.”

His eldest child, Marge Fajardo of Broomfield, Colo., said Spehar worked hard for the Gary-New Duluth neighborhood, campaigning to get the present Stowe School built and working to get lights on Commonwealth Avenue replaced after they were taken down during World War II.

Spehar highly valued education, and the controversy over Duluth’s Red Plan “tore him up,” said his son Tom Spehar, a Duluth educator and one of five of the Spehar offspring trained as teachers.

Spehar remained active to the end of his life, dancing at the 50th birthday party for his youngest children — twins Mark Spehar and Mary White of Duluth — two days before he died. “He was dancing up a storm,” said daughter Joyce Spehar of Minneapolis.

Elizabeth Spehar recalled that her younger cousin Isaac Spehar at one time gave his grandfather a pebble, asking him to keep it as a remembrance when they couldn’t be together. The pebble was found in Spehar’s pocket when he died, Elizabeth said.

“He always had a positive word to say and always tried to bring out the best in people,” said daughter Joan Spehar of Minneapolis. “Time and time again I would stand back in awe of my dad and what he brought out in people.”

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