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Eulogy for Marvin Spafford (12/10/2021)

12 Dec

Thank you for coming out today to help us honor the memory of our dad, Marvin John Spafford.

I want to start by quoting my dad’s favorite President, Bill Clinton (Long Pause). I’m just kidding. That’s not his favorite president at all. We didn’t agree on politics. I told him a couple years ago if he ever passed away before me, I was going to start with that. He laughed. His favorite president was Harry S Truman. I don’t know if this is because of his policies or the fact that he won a 12 pack of beer from the bet he placed with a friend. And it even felt better after he found out that Dewey didn’t actually win. Truman said, “There’s nothing new in the world, except history you do not know.” To this end our dad strived to read as much about history and historical figures as he could. One of those historical figures was Winston Churchill. He read all 5 books of his biography and pored over every word and speech. A quote from Churchill’s biography that my dad pointed out to me and resonated with him was, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, it’s also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Another quote from Churchill which my dad enjoyed was, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” My dad spent a lifetime of looking at results. No, he wasn’t a scientist. He was a farmer, father, husband, brother, son and friend.

Over the years, my dad kept many diaries or journals or calendars where he marked important facts. Yes facts. There were no pages filled with his feelings on a certain thing – but instead when it happened, how much it cost or how much it rained. Numbers remained important to my dad throughout his life. Passing along information about family – past and present – was also important. When his sister, our Aunt Juanita, got involved in genealogy and found out that the Spaffords had a castle in England – the Spofforth Castle – he was very intrigued. He remained intrigued even when he found out that it was mostly in ruins. He needed to know everything about each generation. There are 10. 10 generations, that is, from the first recorded Spafford to my dad’s father Joseph.

Connie & Marvin Spafford by the Chippewa River

After high school, my dad worked on the farm for his dad. He worked for a percentage of the profits. He did this for about 5 years until he was drafted. In those five years he saved money and bought 100 feet of lake frontage on Moens Lake. His dad thought he was crazy. It cost as much as a 40. He could swim anywhere for free, why did he need a private beach. Before joining the army in 1953, he loaned the Ford Garage $10,000. Shortly after returning from the army his father died. He and my uncle David took over the farm. When uncle David was drafted, he was left alone to run the farm. His older cousin Chet would come over once a week in an International utility truck that my brother Matt recently had restored – there’s a picture of it on the back of the program today. Chet came over weekly to counsel my dad and answer questions about farming. It was also during this time that my dad had doubts about whether he wanted to spend his life farming. He got through it, and soon Uncle David was back to help, but he still wasn’t sure. He started to take a correspondence course to be an accountant. That’s when he met Connie Croker from Eagle River. Connie’s father was also a potato farmer. Apparently, 60 years ago in these parts, if you threw a potato in any direction, you were bound to hit another potato farmer. My dad used his interest in accounting and did the math and asked Connie to marry him. She turned him down originally and my dad felt like he had dodged a bullet. A week later she asked if the offer was still available. It was. My mom and dad were married in 1960 and remained married until my mom’s passing a couple of years ago.   59.    They were together 59 years. By the way, the Ford Garage repaid him with interest. $13,500. They got a washing machine and a car and saved the rest for the bad years ahead in farming.

My mom helped on the farm seasonally. There are long hours and the kind of labor that most occupations can escape. It can be a hard life, but it can be rewarding. I asked my dad once if he ever regretted not becoming an accountant. He was quick to say he didn’t regret a thing. I asked him if he had wanted me to follow in his footsteps on the farm. He was even quicker to respond with a solid no. He wanted us to get a job where we weren’t worried about if it was going to rain enough, too much or freeze too early. A few years ago, I saw a documentary about farming. They pointed out that in farming you only get so many chances to get it right – most of the time 1 crop per year. They farmed from 1956 to 1991. They had 36 chances. The number is 36.

Many kids have heroes from old movies or comic books. One of my heroes was Spider Man. And what kid didn’t run a garden hose up his shirt and out his sleeve to mimic spraying a spider web. I also had heroes that others didn’t have. My dad built a sandbox for us, and I have fond memories of Matt, Justin and me playing in the sandbox for hours on end with our toy tractors and equipment. Being the oldest, I always played my dad. Matt played Uncle David and Justin played Daryl Cornell. Justin was pretty small, so I don’t really know if he knew he was playing Daryl Cornell. Our heroes were just a stone’s throw away out in the field, and we went through the motions and did the work in the sandbox. Those heroes weren’t wearing capes, just Dickie’s brand work pants and shirts. Three heroes in the field. The number is 3.

We had a cottage on Moen’s Lake – which Bruce Carlson, our funeral director, knows well, having owned it himself for almost 30 years. Standing at the back pier that drooped over the Gudegast Creek – a pier I watched my dad install with steel pipes and concrete, to inadvertently make Bruce’s life hell later while trying to remove it – by that creek, my dad told me that if we paddled down the Gudegast creek and into Moens Lake, to Second Lake, to Third Lake, to North Pelican Lakes, then Fourth Lake, into Fifth Lake, into Fish Lake, then down the Pelican River to the Wisconsin River, The Wisconsin River would take you to the Mississippi River and the Mississippi River could take you to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. I never forgot this. It all seemed so close and connected. Years later my wife Cynthia and I quit our jobs, bought a houseboat, and went down the Mississippi River. My mom and dad came with us for 5 days, starting in Prairie du Chien and ending in Burlington, IA. They loved it. My dad was thrilled to be traveling down the Mississippi River. The next summer he got his cousin Ed and wife Jessie to put their speed boat in the Mississippi. Ed never thought of doing such a thing. My dad proudly told me how much fun they had going through a couple locks – going to Burlington, IA for lunch and coming back the same day. Giving him the experience to make that trip on his own was only a fraction of the debt I owed him for showing me what was possible and how connected we are to everything. The numbers are 4 rivers, 7 lakes and 1 gulf.

Marvin & Connie Spafford on Houseboat Trip on Mississippi River with Jason Spafford & Cynthia Berger

There were also times when I annoyed my dad – you know, like any kid – just worse. You see, as I mentioned, I learned to work hard from watching my dad. But I was, probably am, the laziest Spafford on record. People in the outside world think I’m a hard worker and I just think, man you should see the rest of them go. I came home from college for Christmas break. My dad wanted me to help load a semi and I needed the money. When I got to the warehouse, I realized it was to be loaded with 50-pound bags and this was done by hand. There may have been a conveyor involved. All I know is that it was one bag after another going into that 53-foot trailer. I was 19 and my dad was probably 55. With half the truck loaded, I was dying. I tried to convince my dad that we should take a break. I told him I was worried about him, and his face was red and he was 55 and I was afraid he would have a heart attack. Suddenly, he stopped, but only briefly – just long enough to tell me his face was red because he’s working and that’s the kind of thing that might happen if you work. I gave up on my complaining and my face got red – more from embarrassment from not being able to keep up with a 55-year-old.     Oh, and …. 860 50-pound bags of potatoes on that 53’ trailer.

One summer in high school, my friend Len Frederickson and I had my dad’s boat and its large old motor at the afore mentioned cottage on the lake. My dad had come down with his truck to pull the boat back. Len and I took my car and got back to the house. We were eating lunch before my dad got back. My dad drove in with no boat behind the truck.  He came in and calmly got some carrots from the plate on the table. I asked him where the boat was. He said, the trailer came off the truck and rolled into the ditch. He asked if we could come and help get it. I calmly said, “sure” and got up from the table. Len and I got in my car, and we followed my dad in his truck. Len seemed in shock and was confused. He asked what just happened and if my dad was joking. Why was he not really upset? He said his dad would have been furious. I think it was a combination of who my dad was and also being tempered by farm life, where you’ve watched your potatoes floating in lakes of rainwater, hail stripping all the leaves off your plants, or you’ve raced to sort a rotten pocket in the warehouse that won’t stop spreading – a boat tipping over – on land – is not that bad.  We retrieved one 25 horsepower Evinrude weighing 115 pounds and the StarCraft boat. We lost 5 gallons of gas/oil mixed 50:1.

I have other memories as well. Doing donuts in the 1976 GMC four door pick-up with the entire family in the vehicle was a thrill – even with the high-pitched half laugh half scream of my mom wailing MARRRRVINNNNNNNNNN! I also remember the sound my dad’s seat belt made as he cut it out of the car, because it was in his way. We eventually got him to wear a seatbelt. I heard how he quit smoking in 1970 when he first heard cigarettes could cause cancer. He had been smoking since 1947 and stopped cold turkey. At a half a pack a day, that’s 83,950 cigarettes.

God and faith were very important to my dad, but he very seldom went to church – only if it was required of him. My mom was raised Catholic, and we went to church when she could wrangle us out the door. When my dad went to church, he never dipped his fingers in the holy water at the entrance. He said he didn’t know where people’s hands had been. Turns out, he was ahead of his time on that thinking. He also said that the Lord took the seventh day off and he was sure the Lord would understand him doing the same. I never knew until much later that my dad began saying a prayer at the age of 10 and said that same prayer every night for the rest of his life. Some will argue that that’s not enough work when it comes to salvation and such. I would say that the real work is being good, honest, kind and leading a life that inspires others to do the same. And that’s what he did. By the way, I know you need to know. That was 29,930 prayers. I also know that those keeping track noticed that he had more cigarettes than prayers. But these were powerful prayers and those were cheap sinful cigarettes.

Grandpa Marv with Hoyt, Iris, Lila Spafford – Thanksgiving 2021
One of dad’s last journal entries

Upon retiring, my dad got his realtor’s license and worked for a builder near Madison before my mom and dad moved back up north to Eagle River. He designed and began building his house – by himself – on his 70th birthday. This would be the house where they lived for the next 20 years. For the past forty plus years my dad was a member of the Shriners. He was very proud of raising money for the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital, where we’ll be sending a donation in his name. Finally, he worked with Matt as a freight broker before deciding he wanted to focus more time on mowing his lawn and woodworking projects for family and friends. This past Thanksgiving my dad sat in his chair at his house that is now Justin’s and was surrounded by family. After the meal he went to his chair and in his journal, he drew a diagram of the table and labeled where everyone was sitting – to better remember the meal. Come to think of it, maybe there were feelings mixed in with all those facts. You just had to read between the lines, like in life.

Regarding Churchill’s quote, I don’t know what my dad’s strategy was, but today we are looking at the results of a life lived well. Although myself, Matt, Justin and Nicolle are different people, I know we inherited a lot of my dad’s traits. It was very important to him, and my mom, that we be independent people. I know he was very proud of all of us. I know that because he made sure to take the time to tell us that. I know that he loved his grandchildren very much and that he was proud of Brianna, Lydia, Lila, Hoyt and Iris. I know that because he showed that to them whenever he saw them. Finally, I know that he loved our mom very much and will be happy to be with her again. The number is 2 – together. And there are no more numbers. We’ll move forward with the memories of those numbers and make our own numbers and we can only hope that we have the courage to stand up and speak and sit down and listen.

 
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