URBANA — Robert George Frederick Spitze, 97, of Clark-Lindsey Village, Urbana, died in hospice care on Wednesday (Jan. 22, 2020).
Bob was the son of Wesley Henry Spitze and Nora Catherine Stullken Spitze. He is survived by daughter Glenna Spitze (Paul Nance) of Albany, N.Y., son Ken Spitze (Jenny Ingram) of Bloomington, Ind., grandson Christopher Franklin of New York City, sister Dora McCall (Nolan) and many other cherished relatives including nieces and nephews.
He was predeceased by his wife of 65 years, Hazel Taylor Spitze; his granddaughter, Megan Spitze; and brothers Elmer Spitze and Gerald Spitze. He died on the anniversary of his granddaughter’s death.
Born on Oct. 12, 1922, Bob spent his childhood on a family dairy farm near Berryville, Ark. He worked hard to accomplish daily chores at home and to excel in high school academics and activities. His mother Nora died when he was age 6 of an infection before the days of penicillin. His stepmother, Grace McLoud Spitze, often said that she tried to raise him and his brother Elmer as she knew Nora would have wanted.
Bob graduated from Berryville High School in 1940 as valedictorian. His interest in pursuing further education was nourished by his high school vocational agriculture teacher, E.J. Guise, and he decided to attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He left the farm to enroll in the university with $30 in his pocket, earned from growing corn on 6 acres of land nearby. There, he was supported by a Sears Roebuck scholarship, part-time work including three years with the Department of Entomology, and later the G.I. Bill. His parents supported him as they could with food and clean laundry to take back from his trips when he hitchhiked home.
He crossed paths with a fellow student who shared many of his interests, including the Methodist youth group and College of Agriculture activities. Hazel Taylor, a home economics major, worked on the student newspaper, and was by chance assigned to write an article about fellow student Bob Spitze.
This acquaintance evolved into a romance. Bob recalled having spent time at her home eating popcorn and drinking homemade grape juice during their courtship. They became engaged in 1943 but, due to his wartime service, they had to wait until he was commissioned in the U.S. Naval Reserve before they were married on March 4, 1944 during his furlough. After a short honeymoon with a bus trip to Kansas City, they spent only two months together of their first two years of married life, writing letters to each other daily.
During World War II, he was in the U.S. Naval Reserve Officer’s program at Colombia University and was commissioned an ensign. He served as a lieutenant on Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) for 3 1/2 years, and was engaged in the amphibious campaigns of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. His ship was preparing for the invasion of Japan when the war mercifully ended.
Upon rejoining his bride again after World War II, Bob resumed his studies at the University of Arkansas and graduated with a B.S. in 1947, the first college graduate in his family. He and Hazel then pursued graduate study together at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Bob again supported by the G.I. Bill. Hazel received her M.S. in home economics education in 1948 and Bob his Ph.D. in agricultural economics in 1954.
Following their first academic year of graduate work, they chose to use some of their savings to explore war-ravaged western Europe as guests of university student unions. This unique experience deeply affected their future goals and values.
Bob’s first academic appointment was at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (1951-60), where he advanced to professor rank. He joined the faculty of the University of Illinois, Urbana, in 1960, where he continued in teaching, research and public service for 34 years. Hazel had pursued her Ed.D. degree in Tennessee, which she completed in 1961, shortly after the move to Illinois. Despite the university’s nepotism policy, she competed successfully in a national search for a position in the College of Education and, with the support of Dean Rupert Evans, obtained one of the first tenure-track appointments granted to a faculty spouse at the University of Illinois. Both Bob and Hazel continued teaching at the University of Illinois until retirement, Hazel in 1987 and Bob in 1992.
Bob and Hazel were continually enriched by traveling to many countries and participating in professional programs of their respective international associations. During his sabbaticals, Bob was associated with the University of London Wye College in 1967-68 and on several occasions with the USDA in Washington, D.C. He was author or co-author of several books, many articles and book chapters on agricultural and food policies.
Bob received numerous awards, including the Distinguished Teacher Award of the American Agricultural Economics Association (AAEA) in 1972, the Funk College Faculty Award in 1973, the UIUC Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1977, and the Distinguished Policy Contribution Award of AAEA in 1981. His professional association memberships included the AAEA, American Economic Association, the International Association of Agricultural Economists, the Agricultural Economics Society (United Kingdom), the American Association of University Professors, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Bob and Hazel endowed student scholarships and faculty awards for excellence at four land-grant universities at which they earned degrees or had appointments: the Universities of Arkansas, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Illinois. Awards at the University of Arkansas include scholarships honoring E.J. Guise and supporting students from each of their hometowns. They were jointly awarded the University of Arkansas College of Agriculture and Home Economics: Outstanding Alumni Award in 1994, and the National Agricultural Alumni and Development Association, Outstanding Philanthropist Award in 2004.
Bob was deeply enthusiastic about the role of land-grant institutions, created by the Morrill Act in 1862. During one of many ceremonies to which they traveled to present the awards they had funded, he said, “The land-grant notion has permeated so much of the history of our country. I don’t think we’d be the democracy we’ve been if we had not incorporated that.”
In retirement, Bob and Hazel enjoyed volunteer and political activities. They gardened, walked and played bridge with friends and family. They traveled frequently to visit children and grandchildren. They traveled throughout the world, visiting all the populated continents. They were involved with the ACLU, Audubon Society, Common Cause, Habitat for Humanity, Amnesty International, League of Women Voters, University YMCA, United Way, Center for Women in Transition, Planned Parenthood, Urban League, the Democratic Party and the Unitarian-Universalist Church.
Bob became a caregiver to Hazel as she was increasingly affected by Alzheimer’s. They continued to be active in many organizations and to take walks together outside, in the Armory and in Lincoln Square. They remained in their home on Vine Street across from Blair Park, as was her wish, with help from nurses and CNAs of Diversified Health Care Services in her later years.
After her death in August 2009, he began to prepare for a move to Clark-Lindsey Village, where they had long been signed up as future residents. He became a resident in September 2010, joining a group of new and old friends and deeply enjoying the chance to socialize daily. A sign on his door said, “Welcome to Camelot.” The continued support of Diversified staff allowed him to stay in his apartment as he needed increasing amounts of care. We are very grateful that he was able to carry out his wishes in this way.
At the end of his life, he spent time in the hospital, surrounded by his children and his grandson, whom he briefly recognized. He died in hospice care at Meadowbrook Health Center. We are very grateful that they made this peaceful ending possible.
Memorials may be made to the University of Illinois Foundation’s Robert G.F. Spitze and Hazel Taylor Spitze Educational Fund. These funds support student scholarships and faculty awards in the ACES and Education Colleges. The University of Illinois Foundation address is Harker Hall, 1305 W. Green St., Urbana, IL 61801.
A public celebration of Bob’s life will be held on Sunday, Feb. 23, in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) Library, University of Illinois, at 2 p.m.
View the obituary and send condolences to the family at www.HeathandVaughn.com.