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Light of Teaching
Have you ever heard of the poem Abou ben Adam? It’s written by Leigh Hunt and goes like this:
Abou ben Adam (may his tribe increase!)
awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight of his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
an angel, writing in a book of gold.
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adam bold,
And to the Prescence in the room he said:
"What writest thou?" The vision raised its head,
And, with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?"said Abou, "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still, and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow men."
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again, with a great awakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben adam's name led all the rest.
This poem probably means nothing to most people. To the other children that learned it, it probably meant little to them as well. Not so for Mr. Spruytte. When he first started elementary school, he was first taught this poem. However, he lived out in the country; consequently, this meant that the family came first and school second. “It’s not that school wasn’t important to his family, but he needed to make time for both chores and family. That means his day would start really early to get his chores done in time for school. He would walk to a one-roomed school house and come home to do more chores and finish his homework at the end of the day. “It must have been exhausting to do that everyday.” says his youngest daughter Kimberly. This is true because to Mr. Spruytte, dedicated to his future and the future of children was his mentality. Mr. Spruytte was a full-bodied man that played into his volunteer work and also went along with his traits of compassion, generosity, and the love of telling stories, much like the great Odysseus.
Even though his father was a petite man, Mr. Spruytte got lucky in the gene pool and took after his mother’s side. She was a tall, healthy and kind-hearted woman. In his college years, Mr. Spruytte was six foot three inches, dark haired, brown eyes and had a very athletic build. Later in life, he enjoyed the many flavors of food and it eventually caught up with him as his weight grew. With his new acquired ‘looks’, the job of Santa Claus became a fun and easy thing to pull off. With his new hat and coat, he couldn’t wait for the season of giving to begin so he could have adoring children, from the preschool he volunteered at, to sit on his lap and whisper their wishes into his ears.
His love for playing Santa wasn’t the only thing that showed a portion of his compassion and generosity for the youth in his community. Mr. Spruytte dedicated his life to the youth and their success for over 40 years. On the baseball field, he umpired the little league for 25 years. Not only did he make the right call, but would teach the little tikes how to ‘do it right’ the next time. It was clear to everyone that his passion was to improve the children in all aspects. From sportsmanship, to catching on first base, all he really wanted to do was be there for them.
Whether he was on the baseball field with the kids, or in the high school as Principal with the young adults, he was defiantly there for their learning journey. “He loved being in the halls during passing time so he could interact with the high school-ers and see what was up in their lives.” said Kimberly, “Some of the kids would even be tardy because he would tell them stories.” Mr. Spruytte had a natural talent for recalling stories of his life experiences and seeming to remember the smallest detailed stories. He was a modern day bard like the ancient Odysseus. His stories, however, weren’t of mystical creatures and divine beings, but of laid-back childhood memories that he made feel like adventures. He kept involved in the story but didn’t tell it just for pleasure. His stories always ended with a moral or life lesson to be learned. If he wasn’t in the halls telling his stories, then it was to his family during the holidays. Emma remembers the Christmas morning how his hair was ruffled, sleep in his eyes, and yet ready to tell the story of why he bought this granddaughter a certain present. “It reminded him of something he had as a child.” recalls Emma. “He was always ready to explain to this grandchild in a way a seven year-old could understand.”
Unfortunately, no matter how great the hero is, there is always something to stand in their way. For Mr. Spruytte it was initially his type two diabetes. It came to him later in his life and he ended up having to give himself two insulin shots a day. However, this wasn’t the thing that made him battle for his life. Of course his diabetes was a challenge for him, but it ended up being Pancreatic cancer that made him fight to save himself. True to his personality however, once he digested the fact that he was dying, he returned to his kind light-hearted self. “I can remember him telling me that he wanted a turkey sandwich with an ice tea when he got out of the hospital.” said his wife, Sandy, “Even when we didn’t know about the cancer yet, he had bowled three games with his team and mentioned on the way home that they needed to stop by the hospital. He referred to the fact that he was probably having a heart attack and wanted to swing by the get it looked at. He said it like he was going to a drive-thru,” said his wife. As he was struggling with his last few days in sight, his old boss came to see him. In conversation, Mr. Spruytte started to recite the poem that he had learned as a young boy, “Abou Ben Adam.” He finished the poem making one change. He inserted his boss’s name, Dr. Kahler, at the end where he became the one at that “Led all the rest.” When he got to his final battle, he succumbed to Pancreatic cancer. Mr. Spruytte never got to taste that victory turkey sandwich or ice tea. He left the world as an inspiration that still lives today.
Overall, Mr. Spruytte had touched so many lives that at his funeral, there wasn’t enough time for everybody to say their final goodbyes. One of his grandchildren recalls, “I went into the gym and there was a line that coiled all the way around several times; there were too many people and not enough time for them to say their final good-byes.” Even though Mr. Spruytte isn’t here with us today, his characteristics and influences he had on the youth carries on today in the community where he once lived. These attributes went beyond the general term of hero. He had difficulties from diabetes and weight gain to the cancer that plagued him later on but that didn’t stop him from his legacy living through the people he touched. Mr. Spruytte isn’t just one granddaughter’s hero, he shouldn’t be. He was too great a person to only have one close family member to admire him. Mr. Joe Spruytte truly was, and still is a light of hope, which without a doubt, makes him a hero.