Olive Wise Spannaus (1916-2018)

Childhood and Education

Olive was born in St. Louis, Missouri on January 23, 1916, of Bertha Abigail Loy and George Franklin Wise, both of Darke County, Ohio, who had been married in St. Louis in 1912. She was the second of four children, and was predeceased by her older sister Anna Marie (Bueltmann, Rowold), younger brother John, and younger sister Alice (Harder).

She was baptized as an infant at Nelson Presbyterian Church, and confirmed at age 14 in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod along with her sister Anna Marie; her parents were later also confirmed into the Lutheran faith.

Her father began teaching school in Darke County, Ohio at the age of 16. After graduating from Lima College and Northern Ohio University, he taught business courses at Brown’s Business College in St. Louis, and for a time was sent to Cairo, Illinois to run a branch of the college. Her mother worked in an overall factory, played organ and piano for church services, and taught piano.

Her family had a love of laughter and a love of singing. They often visited nursing homes and other places where they performed songs and skits.

Both of her parents were blessed with a whimsical sense of humor. Olive would later recall the family stories, songs, and jokes that echoed around the Wise’s dinner table. They loved creating and performing skits.

Olive attended public schools in St. Louis, specifically Pierre Laclede School in St. Louis for first grade, Garfield School in Normandy District in St. Louis County for second and third grade, and Kinloch School in St. Louis County for the rest of her grade school. She went to Normandy High School on a scholarship, and graduated first in her class from Normandy in 1933. During her junior year at Normandy, Olive played saxophone in the band and orchestra, was elected to the student council and was an advertising solicitor for the school yearbook, The Saga. Her sister Anna Marie was the editor-in-chief.

As the valedictorian of her class, Olive earned a scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis. But – it was only given to boys, since it was believed that a college scholarship would be wasted on a girl. This didn’t set too well with Olive’s mother Bertha, who went to war over the scholarship. As a result, it was determined that Olive would be granted a half scholarship available to descendants of Union soldiers in the Civil War; the scholarship fund was created from surplus funds of the Western Sanitary Commission (a medical-aid organization which was the western counterpart of the United States Sanitary Commission) which were left over after the Civil War. Olive’s eligibility derived from the service of her grandfather Benjamin Wise, who served three years in the 140th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.[1]

The summer after graduation, Olive worked for Shell Oil in downtown St. Louis, until she – and her boss – were laid off because of the Great Depression. Before attending Washington University, she also attended Brown’s Business College (of which her father was principal).

The Civil War scholarship to Washington University was a one-half scholarship; to make up the rest, she worked as receptionist and file clerk in the Dean’s office. She majored in English and Latin, with a minor in German. She attended for three years, at which point she had to leave school because of her mother’s medical condition.

While at Washington University, she played a leading role in the Lutheran student association, Gamma Delta, and in 1939 she wrote the lyrics for to the Gamma Delta hymn, which was used by chapters all over the country. (She revised this hymn in the late 1950s.)

Marriage and California

Olive’s first date with Ruben Spannaus, the love of her life, was in 1936 at a concert. Ruben, from Woodland, California, was attending Concordia Lutheran Seminary in St. Louis. After a couple of years of courtship, Olive and Ruben were married on Dec. 23, 1939. They immediately went to El Monte, in southern California, where Ruben had been assigned to a mission congregation. (This also brought them close to Olive’s older sister Anna Marie Bueltmann, who lived nearby.)  In the Spring of 1940, Olive and Ruben moved to Livingston, in California’s Central Valley, where Ruben had received a call. Their daughter Bertha (“Boots”) was born in September 1940 in nearby Merced.

While caring for Boots, Olive also sang in the church choir, and participated in Ladies Aid and youth programs at Ruben’s churches. She also joined the Garden Club, and became PTA Secretary — despite having no children in school yet. She wrote a poem at this time, which ended with these prophetic lines:

So many things to be done, and I’ve wondered:

Will I have enough time if I live to a hundred?

(Perhaps here we find one of the keys to Olive’s remarkable longevity.)[2]

The Seattle Years – Part One

In September of 1942, Ruben was called to Seattle to develop institutional chaplaincy and charity programs. Ruben, Olive, and Boots drove to Seattle in their 1936 Chevy, and quickly settled in West Seattle and began their long association with Hope Lutheran Church. Not too long after they arrived in the city, their first son Edward was born, in April 1943.

While keeping busy with her children, Boots and Edward – and two young women who “boarded” while working at war-time jobs — Olive became active at Hope Lutheran. Her two younger sons, Timothy and Fredric, were born in June 1946 and August 1947 respectively – and while raising all four children after the war, Olive expanded her participation in church and community.

During her first period at Hope, from 1942 to 1957, she was involved in the choir, Vacation Bible School, Ladies Aid, and the Service Guild. She was a volunteer coordinator for a neighbor with multiple sclerosis. She wrote songs for special occasions, including a hymn for Hope’s 25th anniversary, and she was active in the newly-formed Lutheran Human Relations Association of America.

At the same time, her community involvement included PTA leadership at all levels; promotion and ticket sales for Community Concerts, the United Good Neighbor Fund (residential area), and the Children’s Orthopedic Hospital Guild, and helping with Campfire Girls and Cub Scouting.

Oh, and let’s not forget Olive’s love of contests. She won many prizes – including a week in Las Vegas with travel and hotel expenses paid. Ruben and Olive left the children with friends and skedaddled off to Las Vegas, just the two of them. It wasn’t really their cup of tea, though, and they came back a day early! (The contest was likely to create a name for a radio station. She thought up “Warehouse of Music” or WHOM) She specialized in writing advertising jingles and winning the contests. She was interviewed on local radio, and won an appliance or two for their home on 45th Avenue SW.

The Chicago Years

In 1957, the family moved to the Chicago area, where Ruben had been offered a position with the Lutheran Child Welfare Association of Illinois. Leaving Seattle was tough on the whole family, but was helped by the fact that her sister Anna Marie and the Bueltmann family had migrated from Tacoma to central Illinois two years earlier.

While living in suburban Elmhurst, Illinois, and attending Redeemer Lutheran in Elmhurst, and later Trinity Lutheran in neighboring Villa Park, Olive became – if possible – even more active in church and community affairs. This included:

  • Church choir and committees; Board member of the West Suburban chapter of the Lutheran Human Relations Association; and founder and president of the Valparaiso University Guild’s Elmhurst Chapter.
  • Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML): leadership roles at all levels. 12 years on English District (of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod LCMS) LWML Board, with four as president and thus a board member of the International LWML. Co-authored the 1973 Mustard Seeds Mini-Bible-study series “The Spirit and Me,” published by the International LWML.
  • Served as the first woman member of the English District LCMS Board of Directors in 1972-78, and was an advisor to the English District Commission on Women in the Church.
  • Was appointed by the LCMS President to the LCMS Task Force on Women in the Church (1973-77), the predecessor to the President’s Commission on Women.
  • Co-authored, with husband Ruben, a paper “The Total Woman versus the Shalom Woman,” contrasting books/philosophies by Marabel Morgan and Margaret Wold, and presented this to LWML groups and later to other groups in Chicago and beyond, both Lutherans and others.
  • Member of subcommittee (under the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship) which developed the Marriage Service for the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978).
  • Active in founding the Lutheran Women’s Caucus, which initially demonstrated, leafleted, and held meetings to influence the LCMS 1971 and 1973 conventions; in 1976 it become national and pan-Lutheran, working for full partnership of men and women in the life of the church; national board member 1976-1984.
  • In 1960, wrote her most famous hymn text, “Lord of All Nations, Grant Me Grace,” written for the Lutheran Human Relations Association of America, and sung at their Annual Institute in 1960 and since. The hymn was given its present tune Beatus Vir in 1967, and was published in the 1969 LCMS Worship Supplement. In addition to the Lutheran hymnals (LCMS and ELCA), it has also been published in Roman Catholic hymnals, as well as other Protestant hymnals.
  • Wrote other hymn texts, such as “O Christ, Who Walked with Brother Man” (1961) “Straight On, O Ransomed Earthlings,” sung at LCMS Convention worship services in 1971. Two other hymns were sung at LWML conventions: “Arise, O Saints of God” (1975), and “Sisters and Brothers, Look Upward” (1977).
  • Given an autoharp in 1969, began to write both words and music for several folk-like songs such as “Earth Baby,” “Love Shine,” “Love is Forever,” and “God is Like a Woman” (1978). Her “Table Grace” was sung at the 1993 Walther League reunion. Others included “All Things Beautiful” (1981), “Peter’s Mother-in-Law” (1989), and “O, What a Friend was St. Paul” (1989).

Community involvement during the Elmhurst years included:

  • League of Women Voters: leadership roles at many levels, including President of Elmhurst LWV 1963-65 (which were turbulent times); President of DuPage County LWV; Board member of Illinois LWV; Board member and Chair of China/United Nations committee; Board member of the LWV-established Citizens Information Service of Illinois. Lifetime membership in Elmhurst LWV awarded in 1978.
  • PTA
  • West Siders (adults with cerebral palsy) volunteer and coordinator for 13 years.
  • Elmhurst Human Relations Council: board member, dealt with open/fair housing issues in the all-white suburb. In the spring of 1965, she and son Fred marched through Elmhurst’s downtown on York Street in a small contingent protesting the attack on civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama. The Elmhurst march culminated in a rally at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church – possibly the first time “We Shall Overcome” was sung publicly in Elmhurst.[3]
  • With LWV and National Council of Christians and Jews, twice presented a series of workshops “Rearing Children of Good Will.”
  • Member of first steering committee of DuPage Environmental Council, and Council Coordinator for Earth Day Community College and Seminary nation-wide teach-in, 1970.
  • Wrote “The Sewer Song” (to the tune of “Glow, Little Glowworm, Glimmer, Glimmer”) for a campaign to separate storm drainage from sanitary sewers in Elmhurst.

Her activism in the Chicago years led to her being chronicled in “Feminists Who Changed America: 1963—1975,” published by the University of Illinois.

During their time in Illinois, Olive and Ruben began traveling nationally and internationally, eventually visiting all 50 states and many nations. International and overseas trips launched from Elmhurst included:

  • Quebec (1967)
  • Japan, Hong King, and Hawaii (1969)
  • Bahamas (1970)
  • A Eurorail adventure through England, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and France (1972)
  • Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (1973)
  • Mexico (1974)
  • England, Scotland, and Paris (1976)
  • Russia (1977)

The Seattle Years – Part Two

Olive and Ruben moved back to Seattle in 1978 when Ruben retired from Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois. There were many going-away parties and retirement events for both. On Mother’s Day 1978, they came to Seattle and bought a home back in West Seattle, then returned to Chicago to sell their Elmhurst house and host a family reunion. They moved back to Seattle for good in August.

“Retirement” brought no decrease in activity, for either of them. They jumped right back into Hope Lutheran Church, where Olive’s activities included the following:

  • Choir, worship assistant, and the only woman cantor for many years; Women of Hope; song leader for Bible study group; board chair of parish education committee, and music committee.
  • Represented Hope at the Northwest District LCMS Convention
  • Chaired Northwest District Committee on Woman in the Church 1980-94 (later the President’s Commission on Women); helped draft convention resolution creating the Committee.
  • Co-founded Puget Sound Chapter of Lutheran Women’s Caucus, 1979
  • Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue: Seattle-area steering committee; planning committee for annual Reformation Festival (joint Catholic-Lutheran service [of prayer and song]).

In the Seattle community, Olive continued her activity with the League of Woman Voters, serving as publications director, coordinator of phone volunteers, membership chair, administrative vice-president, columnist for monthly newsletter, and – naturally – writing songs for special occasions. She received the LWV-Seattle Carrie Chapman Catt Award in 1995.

At the age of 80, she took up line dancing, in part to maintain her excellent physical condition, and in part to sustain her mental acuity (having heard that dancing, and especially dancing backward, was good for the brain). She participated in, and often wound up leading, line dancing groups at Hope Church, at the West Seattle Senior Center, and other locations. She taught line dancing classes well into her 90s. At an all-day, city-wide line-dancing event in 2005, she was honored as the “most mature” dancer.

She and husband Ruben accelerated their traveling adventures after the second move to Seattle, taking at least 15 major trips from 1979 to 2002:

  • Alaska (1979)
  • China and Hong Kong (1982)
  • Rome, Germany, Switzerland, and France (1983)
  • Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Hawaii (1984)
  • A “Three-Continent Bible Lands” Tour (Israel, Egypt, Greece, etc.) (1985)
  • New Zealand and Hawaii (1986)
  • British Columbia (1987)
  • Spain (1988)
  • A “Centrum Europe: trip to Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, ad Germany (1990)
  • Canada (1991)
  • A cruise to India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia. And Singapore (1992)
  • A cruise from Los Angeles to San Juan, PR via the Panama Canal (1994)
  • Portugal (1995)
  • Costa Rica (1997)
  • A cruise in Russia from St. Petersburg to Moscow (1998)
  • Italy (2002)

Olive and her siblings loved performing at Wise family reunions. Here’s a list of Reunion song and dance numbers, all of which they had done as children in the Wise home:

1996 Pierre Marquette State Park, Illinois “Sunbonnet Sally and Overall Jim”— Trio by Olive, John, and Alice. John wore a straw hat, and Alice wore a lampshade.
1998 Quincy, Illinois “They all Pick on Me” – Solo song and dance by Olive accompanied by Boots.
2002 Linda’s farm in Michael, Illinois “I Faw down and Go Boom” – Olive and Alice Song and Dance with the Adult Hobby Horses, Red bandanas and straw hat. Karen Stern sang an introduction to the song accompanied by Faith on piano. When they pulled on the horses’ ears you could hear a clip-clop sound followed by a neigh or whinny.
2005 Linda’s farm in Michael, Illinois “Side by Side” – Song and dance number with purple boas with Faith accompanied by Boots.

The last reunion she attended was in 2011, where she once again led line dancing, as she had at many of the previous reunions. At this reunion, also at Linda’s place, various relatives impersonated Olive in a group of skits based on incidents in Olive’s life, titled “A Life Well Lived” written by Faith.

Olive’s beloved husband Ruben died on May 24, 2006, after over 66 years of happy and blessed marriage. The family and many friends gathered in Hope Church for a well-attended memorial service.

By the time she reached her 90s, she had become a regular – and a favorite – at Kenyon Hall, a former Grange Hall turned into a vaudeville and classic movie house. The hall hosted her 95th birthday party in 2011, and Olive was the last one on the dance floor.

That week she enjoyed a family dinner at Ephesus, a favorite West Seattle restaurant. The scenes below are from parties at Ephesus for her 94th and 95th birthdays:

   

In early 2013, Olive moved into “The Mount” – Providence Mount St. Vincent senior home and nursing care. At “The Mount,” Olive quickly became popular among residents and staff. As long as her health permitted, she was an enthusiastic participant in the religious and musical activities at the home– including worship services, sing-alongs and, of course, line dancing. As her health declined and she moved into a skilled-care wing, she was less often present at events, but her sense of music and its rhythms persisted even as dementia changed her world.

Her attitude and her demeanor remained predominantly cheerful and upbeat to the very end of her life. Her distinctive laugh echoed down the halls of 4 North. And, at times, she was observed organizing women’s meetings in her mind – checking attendance and calling the group to order. During a visit on her 101st birthday by sons Ed and Tim, Olive was pretty much in a world of her own, but – ever the organizer – she frequently would ask: “Is everyone alright?” and “Are the arrangements okay?”

Olive passed away quietly in her sleep the morning of May 10, 2018, with daughter Boots and son-in-law Paul keeping watch at her bedside. She is survived by her four children, 10 grandchildren (one deceased), and 14 great-grandchildren, and a host of loving nieces, nephews, and their families.

Children and Grandchildren

 

Boots Winterstein (Paul) Seattle, Washington

  • Christopher Winterstein (Amy Bach) El Paso, Texas
    • Clio Winterstein
    • Luisa Winterstein
  • Stephen Winterstein (Sheila Cepeda) Santa Fe, New Mexico
    • Astrid Winterstein
  • Katherine Winterstein Boston, Massachusetts
    • Augustin “Gus” Derr

 

Edward Spannaus (Nancy) Lovettsville, Virginia

  • Michael Spannaus (died 1990)
  • Andrew Spannaus (Laura) Milan, Italy
    • Christopher Spannaus

 

Timothy Spannaus (Collette Pariseau) Lathrup Village, Michigan

  • Adam Spannaus (Julia) Maryville, Tennessee
    • Bryan Spannaus
    • Oliver Spannaus
  • Nathan Spannaus Jyväskylä, Finland

 

Fredric Spannaus (Connie Requarth) Decatur, Illinois

  • Ben Spannaus Hong Kong
  • Stephanie Hebron Naperville, Illinois
    • Brandon Hebron Student at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    • Olivia Hebron Naperville
    • Andrew Hebron Naperville
  • Nick Spannaus (Chitarra) Decatur, Illinois
    • Savannah Spannaus Tallahassee, Florida
    • K’Sea Spannaus Killeen, Texas
    • Nicholas Spannaus Decatur
    • Naudia Spannaus Decatur
  • Timothy Requarth (Meehan Crist) Brooklyn, New York
  • Suzanna Requarth (Silvye Soza) San Diego, California

 

[1]          Olive’s older sister Anna Maria had apparently been offered the same half-scholarship, but she couldn’t raise the other half, so she accepted a full scholarship to Harris Teachers’ College in south St. Louis. She had to leave Harris after one semester because of the long travel distance.

[2]          What makes her longevity even more remarkable is that her mother, Bertha, died in 1940 at age 60 (she had diabetes), and her father, George died in 1944 at age 61.

[3]          At the same time that Olive and Fred were marching in Elmhurst, son Edward was leading a rally at the University of Iowa calling for federal intervention in Selma.