"Life, of course, is too short
smiles, however, never
last long enough."
Spenser was born in Kansas City in 1972. He spent his childhood
in Kansas along the shore of Lake Quivira and in the countryside
of Ottawa. In the summer of 1984, Spenser's family moved to Edina,
Minnesota where he began the seventh grade.
The transition to a new school was made easier by Spenser's athletic
ability. The "new kid" became an all-star baseball player
and a leading scorer on the traveling basketball team. His love
of sports, quick wit and Kansas accent helped Spenser quickly make
The smooth transition lasted less than a year. In June of 1985,
Spenser was itching a mosquito bite on his stomach when he found
a lump. He was diagnosed with Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumor (PNET),
a rare form of cancer. On July 1, Spenser's spleen and part of his
stomach were removed along with a malignant cancer tumor. It was
the first of many surgeries, procedures and treatments he would
endure over the next five years.
While the cancer slowly ate away at him physically, Spenser flourished
mentally and spiritually. "Once you are at peace with God,
peace with your fellow man comes, as well as peace with yourself,"
Spenser confronted his disease just as he would a stranger on the
street - with a smile and a sense of humor. When chemotherapy caused
his hair to fall out, Spenser simply sang out loud and changed the
lyrics of Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" to "Living
with No Hair".
In addition to his faith, writing became Spenser's salvation. His
thoughts poured into journals and notebooks and onto countless scraps
of paper. He would often write late into the night, sometimes by
candlelight, much to the annoyance of his dad who was worried he
would burn the house down.
His humility and humanity endeared Spenser to everyone who met
him. In his senior year at Edina High School Spenser was elected
Homecoming King. He was selected as the "most respected person"
in the senior class and nominated to deliver a commencement speech
at graduation. In his speech, Spenser used the analogy of life as
a highway, and told the overflow crowd at Braemar Arena that "Once
we stop looking up the road for satisfaction, and start looking
around for it, that's when it'll come".
With his health deteriorating, Spenser began his first semester
at Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota in the fall
of 1990. He immediately felt at home and at peace on campus. He
admired Lake Sagatagan and prayed in the Abbey Church. But after
the first week of class Spenser went home and wouldn't return to
Even though his stay at Saint John's lasted only one week, Spenser's
appreciation of each day made his brief college experience one of
the most fulfilling in his life. "It doesn't matter if I have
tomorrow because I've had today. That's living, man."
Two months later, on November 9, 1990, Spenser passed away. He
was 18 years old.
Spenser taught and inspired those he knew and those who knew of
him. His insight and wisdom lives on through his writings while
his spirit endures in many memories. As another writer, Ralph Waldo
Emerson, once wrote, "It is not length of life, but depth of
life." The profound effect of Spenser's life is now felt through
the work of the foundation that bears his name.