Thomas R. Spohr

Thomas R. Spohr

This sketch of her great uncle by 10-year-old Audrey Jones occupies a place of honor in the Spohr home. Audrey is the daughter of Terri and Carla Jones of Brewster, Massachusetts. Carla is the daughter of Richard and Dell Spohr of Altamont.

ALTAMONT— A man who was still playing fast-pitch softball at age 50, Thomas R. Spohr took a lot of pleasure from life and enjoyed sharing its pleasures with others. He died Saturday, June 25, 2016, at age 82.

One of the memories most cherished by his wife, Patricia, and son, Jeremy, is of cross-country skiing with Mr. Spohr  on the trails of the long-gone Hilltown Beresford Farm complex in the dark of night.  Jeremy also remembers his father faithfully coming to “stand in freezing cold for hours” to cheer on his high school cross-country ski  team.

Mr. Spohr was one of eight children — “all of them athletic,” his family says — born to George and Olive Spohr. He was born May 5, 1934, his first home  a farmhouse in Delmar where the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center now stands.

Later his family moved to Bangall, New York. He and his future wife, Patricia, attended the same primary school. But romance blossomed much later, a few years after Mr. Spoh returned home in 1957 from Japan, where he had completed his service in the United States Army.

“He loved Japan,”  says his wife. “The landscape, the people, the culture.”

He returned to Japan many years later in 2001 for the marriage of his son Jeremy to a Japanese woman.

“He was thrilled to be back again,” his son relates.

His attachment to Japan and things Japanese endured to the end of his life, his family says. When a phone rang, he would always call out “denwa,” Japanese for phone, even in his final days.

Another trait he never lost, his family remembers, was his “great sense of humor.” His golfing buddies, who had baldness in common, were startled one day to see him sporting an Afro wig. It became a shared wig in their outings.

And on a trip to Cape Cod to visit family not long ago he picked up a bunch of fake “Nude Beach” parking permits. And secretly taped them to the vehicles of friends back home.

But there were many things he was quite serious about, and one of them was throwing a softball very very fast. He got plenty of opportunity to do that in an era when male fast-pitch softball leagues were thriving in the Capital Region. “These leagues were not  recreational,” his wife stresses. “They were very competitive.”

Mr. Spohr  got so good at it as a young man that local softball teams — sponsored by local businesses—vied for his services.

His wife recalls the story of  a very busy day in Mr. Spohr’s life, the day he graduated from Hudson Valley Technical School (later Hudson Valley Community College). A local team needed him to pitch that day. He obliged them, Mrs. Spohr recalls, and then raced to his graduation ceremony — “no shower!” — still in his uniform, over which he slipped his academic gown.

She also  recalls the time when, as a newly married couple — they were married August 25, 1962 — they had to return from their honeymoon for a game he had been asked  to pitch.

Mr. Spohr’s love for the game and his skills lasted long into middle age. Late in his career, after a hiatus, he went back to the pitcher’s mound.  And, playing against much younger men, he was still able to chalk up a record of 12 wins and one loss.

His career may have climaxed in 1983 when his team, with son Jeremy as bat boy, traveled to the National Fast Pitch Softball Tournament in Bloomington, Illinois, after winning the northeast regional title that year.

One year later, however, trying out a new pitch he had developed, he tore his carotid artery, causing a serious stroke.

After that “he spent two years learning to speak and write again,” a family member  recalls, “but he never allowed the stroke to limit him...He never abandoned the joys of his life.”

Two years later he was back playing golf with his buddies in the Chopper League at French’s Hollow Fairways.

His wife relates that a visitor to the hospice, where Mr. Spohr died after a brief stay, saw his name listed. He exclaimed, “I loved that guy,” the pitcher he still remembered.

Outside his hospice window, a 10-year-old grand niece did cartwheels to entertain him.

Mr. Spohr was a graduate of Pine Hills High School, Hudson Valley Technical College, and the State University of New York at Albany, where “he acquired his love of history,” his son says.

Until his retirement, he worked for almost 20 years for General Electric in Schenectady, in the gas turbines purchasing department. His son says he coordinated delivery of parts, many so big they had to be delivered on flatbed rail cars belonging to the company.

“But there were small parts, too, “ he recalls. “I remember driving down to Columbia County with him one time to pick up a part in the middle of the night.”

After his retirement, Mr. Spohr  continued to be an active member of the Altamont community.  With many others, he helped  restore the old train depot and give it renewed life as the Altamont Free Library. He took on the task of refinishing its entrance door.

He enjoyed refinishing antique furniture, his wife said, including the kitchen table at which she and other family members sat Tuesday, sharing their memories of Mr. Spohr’s life.

Thomas R. Spohr is survived by his wife of 55 years, Patricia (née Brennan) Spohr, his son Jeremy Spohr and his wife, Hiroya Saito, of Havertown, Pennsylvania; by his sisters, Jane Huber of Rhinebeck; Georgiana Armand and her husband, William, of Philadelphia. He is also survived  by his brothers, Richard and his wife, Dell, of Altamont; Donald and his wife, Joyce, of Pine Plains; and James and his wife, Regina, of Altamont. He is also survived by many nieces, nephews, grand-nephews and grand-nieces.

His brother Robert and sister Olive died before him, as did his brother-in-law Lewis Huber.

Calling hours will take place on Friday, July 1, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at Fredendall Funeral Home, in Altamont. They will be followed by a brief service  at 4:30 p.m.  Friends and family are invited to gather at the Altamont Village Hall at 5 p.m.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the Altamont Free Library, Post Office Box 662, Altamont  12009.

— Tim Tulloch

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