his Life

Greg's Life - a few more details

Gregory Edward (Greg) Speltz was born in Carson Wisconsin to Loretta (Foy) and George Speltz.Greg was preceded in death by his parents and sisters Bernardine Koller and Petronilla Speltz, and his beloved wife, Mary (O’Connell) Speltz.He is survived by his daughter Kate Speltz and son-in-law Rich Gamble, and nieces and nephews of several generations who fondly remember “Uncle Greg”.

Words associated with Greg as people have begun to share memories: social justice, faith; real listener, catholic, deeply interested in others, humor, eternal learner, and did we mention social justice.

Greg’s Catholic faith was extremely important to him. It was the driving force in his life, and it was not a passive thing. Catholic Social Teaching and the necessary justice work within the church and for the common good of the world were at the core of everything he did. This quote, from Pope Paul VI was a favorite of his:“… it belongs to the laity, without waiting passively for orders and directives, to take the initiatives freely and to infuse a Christian spirit into the mentality, customs, laws and structures of the community in which they live.” 

While firm in his own convictions, he was open to other points of view and motivations – genuinely interested in others and what and how they thought. A veteran of many protests and vigils for peace and justice, he would often cross the street to dialogue with counter-protesters. On vacation or a Saturday walk, he would engage strangers in real conversation – much to the embarrassment of a teenaged daughter. People sensed his genuine interest, however, and it was amazing what they would share with Greg. In his later years, living at the Norse Home, he knew all the staff and residents by name, and had a personal project of writing biographies of residents – completing nearly 50.He enjoyed hearing the stories and crafting them into a portrait of the person.

His awareness of injustice started early and he had a strong memory of a classmate who would come to school in the snow wearing shoes that didn’t fit and a men’s suitcoat – being aware of the other’s poverty and knowing it was wrong.

He ultimately spent his life working for the Catholic Church and in social work, but that was after a series of jobs as a young man to help support his family – what his cousin referred to as “the damnedest jobs”. This included 17 hour shifts seven days a week at the bean cannery [where men worked double shifts, and where when several of them went to ask the boss for Sunday’s off they were told “ you wanted to work, ya sons a bitches – now work”]; working in the cranberry bogs [sleeping there in tents – just imagine the mosquitos in a bog in Wisconsin in June]; working on a crew replacing railroad ties, and – growing-up in a mill town, working in the papermill, including climbing down on rope ladders into vats that held acid, and in a box factory. And, of course, being from Wisconsin there was a stint working at a brewery

He attended seminary from eighth grade on, ultimately deciding not to enter the priesthood noting that he was more interested in prison ministry than in being a parish priest. From there he went to South Dakota where he taught for several years.  When he was ready to come back to Wisconsin to teach, and needed to know how to go about it, his sister Pat connected him with her bowling buddy, Mary Catherine O’Connell. They met on the 4th of July (which they always celebrated) and were married less than a year later. They were a match made in heaven; as Mary would say – Greg was the engine and she, the rudder. Together on earth for more than 60 years, Mary died five years ago, and Greg continued to talk with her every night.

Greg completed a masters in Social Work at St Patrick’s college in Ottawa, Canada, and then began his career working for the Catholic Church in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. A very early member of the National Association of Social Workers, he ended his membership when he felt the organization was more about professionalizing the workers than it was about protecting clients.

After several years working as a counselor he became the assistant administrator of Catholic Charities where he managed the offices, foster care and adoptions, and the Campaign for Human Development, amongst other things. For the last nine years of his work life he worked for the marriage tribunal, providing interviews and counseling for marriage annulments. During these years he also instigated and animated a number of social justice focused groups including in the diocese and at parishes, and independently with groups such as RESULTS and Network.

And then there was “retirement”. Greg firmly believed that retirement was the time to give back to the community- one had earned resources and gained skills that were to be shared. Thus began the itinerant volunteer years for Greg and Mary – running a hospice home in Wisconsin, a food kitchen in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a shelter for homeless men in Shreveport, Louisiana, low income housing for former sharecroppers in Mississippi, and finally all sorts of tasks at a homeless and low-income service center in Mobile, Alabama. While in Mobile Greg also animated a parish social justice committee, began working with School of the Americas Watch, started Second Wind Ministries – an opportunity for snowbirds to spend part of their year volunteering, and founded The Quest for Social Justice, an advocacy organization, which continued for ten years until it merged with another ecumenical organization. The address on the letterhead he created for many an organization was Greg and Mary’s apartment, and the office a word processor in the bedroom

Greg and Mary moved to Seattle, Washington in their 80s as their health began to diminish to be closer to Kate and to really retire. The ultimate extrovert, Greg got to know more people in his 80s than most people who live in a place all of their lives, and many who met him after he was here for a year assume he was a life-long resident. He relished moving to a place where he could participate in social justice activities without having to start-up and lead everything. To that end, he was an active member of the Interfaith Network of Concern for the People of Iraq, the Washington State Religious Campaign against Torture, and St Pats Social Justice Committee, to name a few; as well as serving on the board of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, and as a founding member of Wallingford Meaningful Movies, and School of the Americas Watch Puget Sound. He also actively participated in in work against the death penalty and war, as well as for peace and justice. For Greg – that was retirement.

A natural organizer and fundraiser, Greg always reached out to include others in the work for justice. He wasn’t asking you for a favor, he was inviting you to join him. He didn’t try to convert you but was so strong in his own convictions and willing to talk that many report increased awareness of and involvement in justice issues just by being around him.

As he thought about his life, and particularly in the last year Greg genuinely wondered if and hoped that he had done enough with his life; that he had made a positive impact for someone. Many took the opportunity of his recent 97th birthday to let him know how he had impacted them as a role model for justice, and that meant a lot to him.

If he wondered if he did enough, where does that leave us? We can honor his life by connecting with one another, and by working for the common good and a more just society

Greg Speltz – Presente!