Coach Spence: ‘Our principal, our teacher, our friend’
Jim Spence was many things to many people.
He was a family man, a teacher, a dancer and a friend.
To Quincy, he was also a leader in the community, in the classroom and on the basketball court.
The beloved community member had a heart attack on Oct. 17 and passed away on Nov. 6 at the age of 74. A celebration of his life is set for 11 a.m. on Friday at St. Pius X Catholic Church.
For Spence, green and gold was in his blood. He grew up here, graduated from Quincy High School and then eventually returned home to teach in Quincy and later become a principal and athletic director.
“He was Mr. Quincy,” said QHS Athletic Director Bill Alexander. “He was the ultimate gentleman. There are not many of them around anymore.”
Alexander was recruited in 1990 by Spence to coach football and teach in Quincy. Alexander said Spence, who was the District 6 Athletic Director of the Year in 1989 and later inducted into the Washington State Athletic Director’s Hall of Fame in 2004, was someone he leaned on professionally.
“Jim mentored me as a young coach (at a new school),” Alexander said. “His door was always open to me. He was a great leader.”
Spence’s leadership extended past the hallways of Quincy High School, as well as many years down the road. When one of his former students, Arnold Ybarra, found himself in the hospital a couple years ago, Spence was there among his visitors.
“He said, ‘Arnold, you’re still one of my students,’” Ybarra said. “He was such a good guy. He was our principal, our teacher and he was our friend.”
In his role leading the high school basketball team, Spence became a well-known coach in the area. He was part of the Jackrabbits basketball coaching staff for many years. Spence was known not only as a coach who saw potential in every player but one who also found a way to get it out of his players.
Adam Louie remembers his freshman year playing for Spence.
“He made me a shooter,” said Louie, who played for Spence in 1986. “He was the best coach ever. He turned not very good players into very good players. He was a very good teacher and was never mean to us.”
And Spence was more than just a coach to him, Louie said.
“He was the greatest man I’ve ever met in my life,” Louie said.
Life after school took a twist and turn for Spence and his wife of 53 years, Vonnie. Together the couple found round dancing, a choreographed, cued ballroom dancing. The Spences danced with the Appleland Promenaders and the Plus Bunch in Wenatchee. Spence even became a round dance cuer and instructor, receiving the Washington State Cuer of the Year award earlier this year.
“They performed all over North Central Washington – that was their love,” said Ybarra. “I asked him how he kept in shape and he said, ‘I dance.’”
With Spence’s passing, the former teacher and coach is on the community’s mind this week.
“He’s going to be missed,” Ybarra said. “The community will miss him.”
He is survived by two sons, two daughters and 11 grandchildren.
— By Kurtis J. Wood, firstname.lastname@example.org