I Loved You Before I Needed You

Last summer – when my dad was just starting treatment again, but still very healthy – I sat with him on the back deck of our family lake cabin and asked him to write something for me. I gave him a piece of scrap paper (a to-do list for work on the back) and asked if he’d write “Love you” on it. He chuckled and said sure, scrawling the words with his left hand hooked around the pen, like he had since he was a kid and the teachers told him even though he was left handed, he had to make his letters slant to the right.

I wanted to get a tattoo of his writing, but over the last year, I never got around to it. On June 4th, I woke up and decided it was the day to try. I walked into a local tattoo shop and asked if they could fit me in. After they were done, I went straight to the hospice house.

Two hours later, my dad took his last breath.

Every time I look down at my arm, I feel him close. Earlier this spring, when I was helping him with a task that had been able to do independently only weeks earlier, he looked at me and said “I love you. I loved you before I needed you.” I’m so lucky to have been loved by him.

Dr. Brian Spooner, Sr.

Dr. Brian Sandford Spooner, Sr.

Brian Sandford Spooner, Sr., of Manhattan, Kansas departed this world on June 4, 2022, at the age of 84 after a long battle with cancer. He was surrounded by his loving family, who already miss him more than anything. Brian was a husband, father, and passionate researcher. He recently retired from Kansas State University after 51 years, during which time he was named a University Distinguished Professor, as well as served as the Director of the Division of Biology and Interim Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. He was awarded the title of Emeritus Dean in Spring 2022.

Born on December 27, 1937 in St. Louis, Missouri, Brian was the eldest of six siblings, who affectionately called him “Sandy.” His father was drafted into World War II when he was in elementary school, and he vividly remembered taking over as the “man of the house” in his absence. This caretaker role was exemplified throughout his extraordinary life. He was a talented athlete and parlayed that talent into a scholarship to Quincy College (now Quincy University), becoming the first person in his family to attend university. He was a touch rambunctious in his youth, but while at school he met a young woman named Mary-Rita Sloan, who inspired him to get serious about his studies and this changed the trajectory of his life. Brian and Mary-Rita were married in August 1963, and at the time of his death, were preparing to celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary.

Soon after Brian graduated from Quincy College, he decided to pursue a higher degree, receiving his Ph.D. in cellular and developmental biology from Temple University in 1969. During this period, Brian and Mary-Rita welcomed their first two children, Brian Jr. (born in 1965) and Beth (born in 1968), and began a period of family life as they traveled for Brian’s studies. They went from Illinois to Philadelphia and then to the University of Washington in Seattle and then to Stanford, California, where he completed his postdoctoral fellowships in developmental biology and embryology. He arrived at Kansas State University in 1971, and loved teaching, bench research and finding ways to move the Division of Biology forward. He was awarded the Distinguished Graduate Faculty Award in 1991 and the Outstanding Department Head Award in 1997. He was named a University Distinguished Professor in 1999, K-State’s highest career academic title. During his time at K-State, he taught courses from introductory to graduate levels, and advised undergraduate students. He served on numerous scientific editorial boards, peer review panels and study sessions for NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). His research was focused on the fundamental understanding of the behavior of cells and cell populations, which produce organs and organ systems during embryonic development. He even transitioned some of his research to outer space, with his experiments flying on 18 space shuttle missions, where his work focused on the long-term effects of space on the human body. During this time, he was invited to participate in several aspects of astronaut training, including riding on the KC-135 airplane, also known as “The Vomit Comet.” The home videos from that experience not only showcased his incredible strength and sense of adventure, but also provided the best show and tell for his kids at school!

In the 1980s, Brian and Mary-Rita decided to expand their family, adding Megan (born in 1982) and Matthew (born in 1984). One of Brian’s top priorities was being present for his children. He coached t-ball teams, always showed up in the pickup line after school, and with his younger kids, let them come to his office and lab, where they became pseudo mascots for his research team. There truly was not a better father in the world, and while his family is sure others will argue their dads were just as great, we respectfully disagree. There simply was not a better dad than Brian Spooner. From long weekends at Council Grove Lake (his favorite place) fishing, boating, and hiking, to every recreational, high school or even intramural sports game, Brian showed up. That’s who he was. He was a man who showed up for people.

Brian believed deeply in science and education. Raising his kids in Kansas gave him many opportunities to share about his beliefs and teach his kids how to stand up for others, even when you’re in the minority. He was always actively working to learn and accept others who were different from himself. In high school, when his all-White basketball team was integrated, he refused to eat at diners on the road that wouldn’t allow his Black teammates to enter. Instead, he sat on the bus with them. Brian believed in climate change and participated in the March for Science on K-State’s campus just a few short years ago. He was heartbroken by gun violence and believed strongly in the Black Lives Matter movement. He also was a strong ally to the LGBT+ community, supporting not only students, but his grandchildren who identify as a part of that community. He protested at the Kansas Statehouse for more funding for higher education and while he hated politics, he worked hard at the administrative level at K-State to make it a more inclusive community for all, increasing the number of graduate students and post docs that were female by more than triple in his time as Department Head. As a life-long Catholic, he was an example of how science and faith can not only coincide but complement each other. His wonder of the world around him is what cemented his faith.

Brian loved sports and spent many hours during his cancer journey tuned into ESPN and NBA games. Until his cancer diagnosis in 2016, he still played basketball at noon daily at Ahearn Fieldhouse, a tradition throughout his years at K-State. Brian had a fade away three-point jump shot that was something of extreme beauty…and he knew it! In his later years, as he knees grew weak after years of abuse on the basketball court, he began running, doing 5Ks with his grandkids and children. He ran several 5K Fourth of July midnight runs in Clearwater, Florida where he achieved a 1st or 2nd place finish each time in his age division. His number one piece of advice when one of his kids was having a bad day was “eat a banana and go for a run.” And even though we hated that advice, it always did seem to work.

Brian’s life was saved in 2016 by a clinical trial at The University of Kansas Cancer Center. After his initial diagnosis, he was given no more than 6 months to live, but he was approved as the first patient on an immunotherapy clinical trial, which was a complete miracle. He was in treatment for two years, and then lived almost three years cancer free, before a reoccurrence in the spring of 2021. His family is so grateful for the extra time we were able to spend with Brian, especially for his younger grandchildren who were able to know him.

Brian had eight grandchildren, and he loved them dearly. He was hands-on with them, attending sports games (even getting thrown out of a game for being too rowdy when a poor referee wouldn’t stop making calls on his grandsons), shooting hoops, taking them on boat rides along with tubing and skiing at the lake and reading with them. All of his grandchildren carry a piece of him, and we are so thankful for the time we have had together.

Brian fought cancer long and hard, and even when his body was in misery, he always worried more about others than himself. We will miss his passionate speeches, Star Trek marathons and long walks outside in deep conversation. We will miss his wisdom and compassion. We will miss every hug, kiss, fist bump and word of kindness that he threw our way when he was here. His life touched so many people, it’s impossible to summarize in words (as you can tell from this very long obituary).

Brian is survived by his wife and the love of his life Mary-Rita Spooner, and his four children: Brian Sandford (Jeanie) Spooner, Jr. of Quincy, Illinois, Beth Ann (Doug) Logsdon and Megan Sloan (Trent) Peters of Overland Park, Kansas, and Matthew Sloan Spooner of Manhattan, Kansas. He is also survived by his grandchildren Zachary Spooner, Jacob Spooner, Eleanor Spooner, Tyler Logsdon, Dylan Logsdon, Sloan Logsdon, Halo Peters and Tate Peters. In addition, he is survived by his siblings, Sharon Mattera, Dennis Spooner, Kevin Spooner and Guy Spooner. Brian was preceded in death by his parents, Kenneth and Dottie Spooner, and his sister, Sydney “Timmie” Spooner.

To hear more of Brian’s life story, you can listen to his interview with Storycorps, which is archived in the Library of Congress or can be found here. You can also listen on most podcast apps by searching for “Never Not Grateful” episode 8 titled “StoryCorps and my Dad.”

The End of Endless Spring Break

I’m writing this the day before our first day of school for the year. Our family chose to do remote learning this semester, as I’m still working from home and we felt that was the best option for our family. And technically, right now all the students in our school district are remote for the time being, but knowing that we have a full semester ahead of us feels a bit daunting. Instead of focusing on the unknown, I’m looking back at the summer we were able to have, even with the restrictions due to the pandemic. We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to safely and cautiously travel a bit this summer, both to Colorado and multiple trips to my family’s lake cabin. After being together in our home working and schooling and living for months and months on end, a change of scenery was extremely welcome.

I want to remember all the good times we had this summer, not just the disappointments, cancelled vacations and camps, and challenges. I want to remember Lucy falling in love with skateboarding in Aspen, Tate learning how to waterski, watching my brother-in-law get married in the mountains, hiking and biking, watching the sky change at sunset and staring at the Milky Way at night. I want to remember watching my kids actually play together, laughing and acting silly, not putting on a facade for friends. I want to remember sitting around a fire pit with my family, making s’mores and listening to them talk, laugh and share. I want to remember that the summer of 2020 wasn’t all bad. In fact, there was a lot of good in there too.

Scenes from our Quarantine

The following post includes photos from my daily #ScenesFromOurQuarantine series on Instagram, along with portions of my journal entries from the past six and a half weeks. While I have certainly gotten quieter on the blog in the past few years, I thought it might be nice to share some thoughts and images from this strange time in our lives. I am sending love to anyone and everyone reading this…I hope you are healthy and safe.

March 15, 2020

I truly cannot believe that any of this is happening. It feels like a dream (nightmare?) and when I wake in the morning, for a quick moment I forget it’s real. It’s here. COVID-19 is here. This weekend, while we hunkered down at home, doing our best to practice “social distancing” – a term I’m sure we will grow to hate – irresponsible people went out to bars and parties. A majority is not taking this seriously, and it’s scaring the crap out of me.

There have been bright spots, like watching Little Women with Lucy. We both sobbed when Beth died and she yelled out loud at Laurie for being a complete dumbass! I went and got journals for them to write in because I think we will want to remember this in 20 years. Plus, I’m hopeful it will help them process everything. It’s only going to get more difficult and strange. I hope I am able to guide them through it.

March 16, 2020

Today I finally received notice that we will be able to transition to working from home. The minute I got the call, my stress lifted, and I immediately felt safer. This evening we found out all schools will be closed until April 3rd, and starting at midnight, all restaurants, retail shops and movie theaters will be closed. It just doesn’t feel real.

March 19, 2020

The kids and I went on a family walk with the dog today. There were tons of families out together, keeping a good distance, but trying to enjoy themselves and each other. One of the gratitudes I am finding right now is that life seems to be slowing down. For years I’ve talked about how out of control our life has felt, espeically as the kids have gotten older. Just a week ago I was getting up at 5 a.m. so I could get Lucy to skating before work. Then I’d work all day and come home to practice or lessons or a board meeting. I’d fall into bed and then wake up at 5 the next day and do it again. Now all of that feels like another lifetime.

March 29, 2020

For now, I think it’s okay to find small joys. To be hopeful. To smile and laugh and find gratitude. I’m sure I won’t feel this way for long. I am grateful we are doing everything we can to stop the spread. We won’t be perfect, but we will do our best. It’s all we can do.

April 6, 2020

I know while my ability to stay home is a privledge, it is also my duty. If you can stay home, you should. So we do. But it’s just incredibly odd. We are finding this new normal. Our lives are going to be really different from here on out. I feel weirdly calm about it. And then I feel guilt for feeling calm. So many are suffering. And all I can do is hope we’ve done enough.

April 7, 2020

I’m feeling grateful every day that I have had years of practice “staying in the day.” Recovery really was a crash course for how to survive a pandemic. Everything is changing, but we can’t focus on the past or the future. Right now is where we have to live, and thank god I’ve had practice because I’m awful at it!

April 8, 2020

Today was a harder day.

April 13, 2020

Another Monday in quarantine is done. It’s been four weeks. It feels like such a long time. Almost like another lifetime. I’m grateful for all the time together with the kids. It feels like a good thing to have a lot of control over there whereabouts right now. I haven’t had to worry about my kids being in a school shooting, overwhelming peer pressure, too competitive sports, school friendship drama or grades in over a month. And that has felt glorious. Those were all huge weights I was carrying with no end in sight…and now they are just gone. I don’t miss them. I do miss quiet time in my car, coffee at my desk at work, endless hours to get things done at work (not really, but looking back, being at work vs working from home while home schooling meant it felt endless), stopping at Target after work, the library, movie theater popcorn, chats with other moms in the bleachers at skating, my in-laws, watching Lucy skate or Tate hit a home run, evenings at the farm, my dad’s hugs….a lot. Just like everything else, there is good and bad. I guess we are all learning to live with it.

April 23, 2020

Today was a better day.

April 24, 2020

Gratitudes of Quarantine:

  • Family dinners (which we’ve never done before)
  • My garden
  • Don’t have to dress up or wear makeup
  • My sleep is the best its been in years
  • No rush to get out of the house in the morning
  • Leisure time in the evenings
  • Runs and walks with Tate
  • Watching my favorite movies with Lucy
  • Trent and I sharing the load at home
  • I can work easily from home
  • Shatto Home Delivery on Thursday mornings
  • Our quiet neighborhood now that the cars are not loud on the neighboring highway
  • So far, no one I love is sick
Fox 4 Aquarium Segment

Summer Fun Activities : How to Build an Aquarium with Your Kids

Everyone, we are ONE MONTH into summer vacation! It is just flying by over in our house, but it makes me happy to know we still have over half of summer left to enjoy. Since June is National Aquarium Month, I headed over to Fox 4 Kansas City, to share how putting together an aquarium with your kids can be a perfect summer activity. The team from Picasso Exotic Aquatics taught me the best tips for creating an aquarium and I am super excited to share them!

Click here to view video!

Building one gives your children the chance to learn responsibility, critical thinking and patience. Aquariums can also be a nice escape from technology (we are dealing with a video game and tablet obsession this summer) and have soothing qualities that have helped my kids become calm, especially at bedtime.

Here are my top tips for building your own aquarium:

  • When creating an aquarium with kids, it gives them the chance to work with their hands and learn about nature. Make sure to talk with the about the science and let them really get hands on with the process.
  • Get a test kit and cycle your aquarium. Not only is this beneficial for the health of the aquarium in the beginning, it allows your children to learn how to test water and learn about water chemistry. Use your test kit often: regular testing aids give your aquarium longevity.
  • Let the child help Aquascape the aquarium. Aquascaping is the art of placing the stones, plants, and other decor in a natural and aesthetically pleasing manner. Allow them to be proud of the new and beautiful home they have provided for their fish.
  • Add live plants. These feed on aquarium waste, keeping the tank cleaner and algae production to a minimum.
  • The location of the aquarium is important — people are naturally drawn to them. You want to be able to enjoy your aquarium while also allowing others to as well. Placement can also determine the aquarium’s stability.
  • Keep the aquarium away from direct sunlight. Those beaming, morning sun rays can grow a mass amount of algae. If you want to place the tank right near a window, it is good to keep the blinds closed when the sun shows the most. Drafts from a window can affect the aquarium’s temperature.
  • Cool or hot air blowing onto your aquarium can cause temperature changes and more evaporation. Especially in the winter when the air is dry. Buy an aquarium thermometer to help monitor changes and a heater to warm the water to tropical temperatures.
  • Your aquarium needs it’s own space bubble. Allow room on the sides of the aquarium so you can easily do maintenance. More room to work is motivating when maintenance needs to be done.
  • Locate an outlet for easy access and regular cleaning.
  • Consider putting the aquarium in a part of the home you would like to inhabit more. The aquarium may draw you and your family to occupy a room not usually visited.

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