The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — After four summer dates in five days, Jack and Breme Springer decided it was time to meet this skinny teenager who had been spending so much time with their daughter. First, it was a harmless game of tennis. Then a movie about the pinball wizard, “Tommy.” Swimming at the parents and a two-hour Sonic Coke date followed. He was informed that dinner was served at 6 on Sunday. Please don’t be late, she said.
Jack Springer greeted me warmly, then after a few awkward formalities, proceeded to show me his collection of firearms in a locked, upstairs case in their west Norman home. He had shotguns, rifles, pistols and enough ammunition to arm the west side of our fair city. I’ll never know if it was a simple warning to respect his daughter or a show of manliness in an effort to bond with this teenager who was quite smitten with his daughter. Whatever the case, the message was received nearly 40 years ago and never forgotten.
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My father-in-law has been on my mind a lot lately. After 84 years, his once-healthy body gave out Friday morning. It was tough to watch him wither in a nursing home bed hundreds of miles away. I prefer my memories of a man’s man who taught me to shoot those guns, snow ski, to change out brake shoes and respect his daughter. Together we cleared lake lots, cleaned catfish, shot skeet, welcomed children, debated labor unions, played something resembling golf and cards, worked in his woodshop, cheered on the Sooners and put in a sprinkler system. He was always there for health emergencies, graduate school finances and home choices.
We drove thousands of miles together on spring break ski trips and tent camps, celebrated birthdays, holidays and promotions. My children loved the retirement home he and Breme built on a lake in Arkansas. They learned to water ski and fish and got to know their cousins from several states away.
Norman was home to them in the 1970s, then again 30 years later in a second retirement. They made many friends here at University Lutheran church, in the River Chase neighborhood and following the Sooners.
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Like my own parents, Jack was a child of the Depression. He worked hard and never wasted money. It was in the Navy that he decided working in personnel was to be a life’s career. The GI bill put him through Ohio State University. He began his personnel work at Westinghouse, living in numerous cities where the company had plants. He rose through the hierarchy, building a reputation as a human resources director and a fair negotiator with labor unions. He witnessed slashed tires, not-so-idle threats from labor bosses, plant strikes and a co-worker gunned down.
He encouraged his five children and 13 grandchildren through college, jobs and families. Success at work, he once told me, involved the right education, the right opportunity and good references — all at the same time.
Labor began to flex its collective muscle here and Norman’s plant called in the mid 1970s. The family got out the map and moved west, to Oklahoma, and a new opportunity.
Later, the headquarters in Pittsburgh needed him badly and the hills of Pennsylvania became home. But corporate life didn’t suit him. Too much paper shuffling. He missed the plants and the interaction with workers building things together. Retirement came early. A U-Haul picked him up from that last day as a lake home and docks, built with his own hands and tools, beckoned.
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A return to Norman was his second retirement. He loved his ham radio buddies, volunteer work at Norman Regional Hospital, Sooner basketball games and Mexican food. In June, he celebrated 60 years of marriage.
Losing a family member or close friend is tough. It puts you in touch with your own mortality and reminds us to live every day to the fullest. He’s at peace now and in a better place. As with my own father, there comes a time to draw back the curtain, have a good cry and love them enough to let them go.
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