Remembering a friend who showed me a bigger world.
I met Arthur Spanjar one snowy Wisconsin morning in 1972, a month before my 21st birthday. I was on my way to Nick’s restaurant, where I had the noon shift between classes. The humid cold didn’t faze me, as I was protected by my mom’s 1920s pre-Depression era muskrat fur coat.
A man, equally warm in a monstrously shaggy hide of a coat (it was buffalo), fell in step beside me. His face was barely visible, what with the coat, a mess of curls on his head and a massive handlebar mustache.
Our coats struck up a conversation. Probably about the weather. And thus was the beginning of many adventures.
At 16 years my senior, Jewish and Dutch-born, Arthur Spanjar was unlike anyone I’d ever known. As a four year old, he experienced World War II from under the floorboards of a stranger’s farmhouse, emerging two years later to find his brother and parents alive but his town decimated.
He migrated to Madison, Wisconsin where ran the Campus Bike Shop (located next to Nick’s), offering Madison’s first imports as well as providing watch repair-level exactitude in caring for all bikes.
Arthur loved old mechanical toys. His modest house was crammed with them, along with music boxes and fine old furniture. A warehouse-sized shed in the back held more mysteries, from mannequins to early automobiles.
He found me my first car: a 1949 Dodge sports coupe. He took an interest in my studies. We drove to Mexico. I learned to bake Dutch treats.
He drove me to the airport when I moved to Utah, and flew here eight years later for my wedding. He met the love of his life, Candice, and they shared a life of love until, two weeks ago, Arthur suffered a massive stroke and died. He was 81 years old.
As my wise friend Kate put it: When an old friend dies, one with whom you’ve shared so many unique experiences, it’s like a part of you has fallen into the ocean. You are the sole keeper of those memories.
Rest in peace, my friend. And thank you for the love and respect we shared.
Greta deJong is editor and publisher of CATALYST.