Richard “Dick” Spady, whose work with Mary Lanning Trust Fund as chairman, board member and employee spanned nearly 40 years, has died. He was 84.
Remembered as a “loving caring, encouraging father” by his oldest son John, survivors include his wife, Norma, and four children, Sarah, John, Stephen, and Tom.
“He was the greatest man in the world that I’ve known,” Norma said this morning.
A former minor league pitcher in the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system, Spady played alongside or against some of the best known baseball players of all time, including Jackie Robinson. He was among the white players who supported Robinson as he labored to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
With a fast ball clocked at 100 mph, Spady was climbing the latter toward the major leagues when injuries to his ankle and pitching shoulder cut his promising career short. Retiring from the game at age 27, he returned to school to finish his graduate studies at University Nebraska-Lincoln, then embarked on a 13-year career with Nebraska Game and Parks before joining McKinley and Lanning, a firm established to make farm loans to homesteaders.
He served on the Mary Lanning Hospital Trust board for 22 years, including 12 as chairman, before leaving the position to C.M. Gary Anderson Jr. in May 1997. A devoted landscape architect, his work can be seen throughout Mary Lanning’s campus and on county courthouse grounds.
Anderson, who worked alongside Spady for nearly two decades, called him “as fine a man as I’ve ever worked for. Should have an ‘I’ tattooed on his forehead for integrity.
“He was a man for all seasons. There were very few topics that he wasn’t informed on. Loved his family, his work, his hospital family, and certainly was a grounded individual. Very level headed and humble — and always thinking of others. His landscapes were his expression of his artistic ability and working with him was a pleasure and not a task, and we will miss him.”
The son of John and Alberta Spady of Hastings, the Hastings High School alum and former American Legion baseball star was the oldest and lone male of four siblings. His affiliations included membership in the Soil Conservation Society of America, The Wildlife Society and Ducks Unlimited. An avid hunter and fisherman, he served as an assistant baseball coach at
UNL following his career with the Dodger organization.
Despite being next in line for the top position with Nebraska Game and Parks, Spady left his job in 1974 to care for his ailing father, who was battling brain cancer. The gesture exemplified the way he lived his life in service to those whom he loved, John said.
His decision to join the trust team largely was influenced by his father’s longtime involvement with Mary Lanning as a board member.
“He really kind of saw it as he was continuing his father’s efforts,” John said. “He tried to live up to his father in that way.”
Mary Plock, lead development officer for Mary Lanning Healthcare Foundation, said Spady’s body of work with the foundation will impact generations to come.
“What a a sad loss,” she said this morning. “He was a great man, and we will miss him. His influence on rural health in Nebraska is one of his best legacies.”
Leota Rolls, former vice president and chief operating officer at Mary Lanning, was a longtime friend of the Spady family.
“He was a wonderful man,” she said. “He devoted a lot to the community of Hastings College and Mary Lanning. He seemed to have an appreciation for the value of life.
“He was always interested in people. Just wonderful kind and gentle man.”
In a statement released by Mary Lanning Healthcare this morning, Eric Barber, president and CEO, expressed appreciation for Spady’s contributions to the hospital.
“Throughout his lifetime, Dick Spady focused his attention on improving health care for patients in the Hastings area,” Barber said. “Our hearts go out to the Spady family as they mourn the loss of this wonderful man who contributed so much to our organization.”
Spady’s landscaping projects at Mary Lanning were among his most cherished accomplishments, John said. After Dutch elm disease had killed the trees surrounding the hospital in 1975, Spady developed a landscape plan that introduced more than 200 species or varieties of plant materials.
Since then, more than 6,000 trees, shrubs and perennial plants have been added in Mary Lanning’s ongoing project, including the Medical Services Building, Home Away From Home, Morrison Cancer Center, and Perkins-Spady Recuperative Gardens.
“He wanted the hospital experience to be beautiful,” John said. “I remember as a kid going over there planting shrubs and plants and digging up shrubs. He was really proud of that.”
The nephew of Edwin Perkins, the inventor of Kool-Aid, Spady was greatly impressed by how his uncle treated his employees as family. It left an impression that he passed on to everyone whom he considered to be extended family, including all of his friends and associates at Mary Lanning, John said.
“That was important to him,” John said. “He wanted to make sure he looked after people like they were an extension of family.”
His father’s burial plot at Parkview Cemetery will be located in close proximity to Perkins’, John said.
“He was a caring, loving husband, father, and grandfather who considered everyone his family,” he said. “He did not have a single judgmental bone in his body. I never heard him say anything negative about anybody else.
“Whether someone was nice to him not, he never judged them and gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. He was just very good at making people feel comfortable.”