Friday, May 25, 2018
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John A. 'Jack' Spiess, 1926-2011: Professor known for advising students

John A. "Jack" Spiess, who as a University of Toledo education professor drew on lessons he learned as a public school teacher and administrator, died June 21 in Flower Hospital from complications of progressive supranuclear palsy, a relatively rare neurological condition. He was 84.

Mr. Spiess of Sylvania retired in 1991 as a professor of educational administration at UT. For about seven years, he was a department chairman in the college of education. For 13 years before that, he was director of the division of educational leadership development.

His forte was advising doctoral students and counseling administrators as they worked on their certificates as principals or superintendents.

"That's where he prided himself -- his ability to understand what the person's passion was [and] putting together their [academic] program so they could succeed on completion of their advanced degrees," said his son Dave, vice president of the Sylvania Board of Education.

"He had the ability to relate to people and take what might be some theory and interact with them on a real-world basis, based on his experiences."

Mr. Spiess kept track of his students' successes, too.

"I'm where I'm at because of Jack Spiess," said Brad Rieger, superintendent since 2003 of Sylvania City Schools. Mr. Spiess was Mr. Rieger's doctoral adviser at UT and chairman of his dissertation committee. "He was accomplished and successful, and he was a very humble man. He was really focused on serving others and making a personal connection with students."

Mr. Spiess was hired as an assistant professor in 1967, the year that UT became a state-funded institution.

He was a consultant to area school districts during his UT career, including to the Sylvania district as it made the decision that led to the construction of Southview High school.

He was born in 1926 in Fort Madison, Iowa, to Carolyn Auge and Orill L. Spiess. He was a 1944 graduate of Fort Madison High School and, in 1948, received a bachelor of commerce degree from the University of Iowa, where he was on the football team. He worked for a time at the florist's shop and greenhouse run by his mother's family.

"It didn't take him very long to realize his calling in life was education," his son said.

He taught high school and was a coach in Humeston, Iowa. He taught and became a principal in Cantrill, Iowa.

He received a master's degree in 1957 from the University of Iowa. He was named superintendent of the Delmar, Iowa, schools in 1958 and of the West Branch, Iowa, schools in 1960. He received his doctorate from Iowa in 1967.

Animal welfare was a longtime concern, and he was a supporter of groups helping protect pets and wildlife.

"If there was a living creature in jeopardy, he had an open warm heart and wanted to assist in any way he could," his son said.

He took a particular interest in the rescue of greyhounds facing abandonment or death after their racing days were through. He and his wife took in five greyhounds through the years; two survive. The couple helped place others and supported several greyhound rescue groups.

He and his first wife, JoAnn, married in 1948. She died in 1972.

Surviving are his wife, Bonnie, whom he married in 1978; sons, Dave, Rick, and Tom Spiess; stepdaughter Risa Dorf Spiess; stepsons, Robb and Matt Dorf, and six grandchildren.

Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the Reeb Funeral Home, Sylvania, where the family will greet friends after 10 a.m.

The family suggests tributes to Nature's Nursery, Whitehouse, or Toledo Animal Shelter.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.

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