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On Wednesday, March 2nd my father-in-law Jim Sporleder passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. In his 76 years he did so many things all with the common thread of helping others in both his personal and professional life. I had the unique experience of touching both parts of his remarkable life. In fact, I credit him for beginning my work in the field of housing and community development. My attempt to give you sense of this man will not give justice to his life, but I hope it gives you a glimpse of who he was and the impact he had on so many.
So, as I thought about writing this blog, I went to google to search for more info Jim’s wonderful life. Page one, nothing about Jim but plenty about Jim Sporleder of Walla Walla Washington. Page two nothing about our Jim but more about Walla Walla Jim. Page three, four, five and six uncovered nothing about James Hugo Sporleder son, brother, husband, father, friend, leader, listener, fixer of all things, Fair Man and so much more. How can this be? How can there be no digital footprint of this great man. So let me begin to correct this great omission in our digital landscape.
In his professional life there were two highlights I would like to mention. He was the lead staff person of Freedom of Residence, an early fair housing organization in the 1960’s. Freedom of Residence was the driving force behind the landmark Jones v. Mayer Supreme Court case that invalidated racist practices of homebuilders in St. Louis.
The Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse said this of Jones v. Mayer, “This case was one of the most important civil rights precedents of the 1960s. It began when the Plaintiffs, prospective African-American homebuyers, applied to purchase a property from Defendant-home developer, who rejected them solely on the basis of their race. Plaintiffs sued in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri under 42 U.S.C. 1981, 1982, 1983, and 2000e, alleging that a race-based denial of a home purchase violated federal civil rights laws, especially the requirement in 42 U.S.C. 1982 that: ‘All citizens of the United States shall have the same right, in every State and Territory, as is enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property.’”
Jim began working at Freedom of Residence in 1968 and the case was already en route to the Supreme Court. He worked with the legal team, headed by Sam Lieberman, to bring to fruition this landmark case. As important he then continued to push the implementation of the new law of the land through Freedom of Residence. When he testified to the United States Senate in May of 1972 on these same unfair practices of lenders and real estate developers he said, “When Lockheed was in trouble, this government figured out a way to help. When the oil industry was in trouble, we helped them. When ITT got into trouble somebody figured a way to help out. And now the people are in trouble. The people are hurting and asking for help. . . . We cannot sweep these practices and exploitive operations of the combination of lenders, real estate dealers, insurance people, and politicians under the table. It must stop.” Always fighting for what was right.
Jim also worked for the Urban League, the Nurse Home Visitation Program, the Judevine Center and Jeff Vander Lou, Inc. (JVL). His work at JVL is the second highlight of his professional career I would like to make note of. He was the de facto Chief Operating Officer of JVL from the mid 1970’s to the mid 1980’s working side by side with Macler Shepard the longtime leader and founder of the organization. JVL was a community development organization working in the north city area bounded by Jefferson, Vandeventer and St. Louis Avenues. JVL was a leader in the region in that it was run by local residents and produced affordable housing for both families and seniors, created an innovative partnership with Brown Shoe Company that led to a production plant in the neighborhood, opened a coffee shop and day care center. Simply amazing and that type of work rarely gets accomplished today. I had the good fortune to complete an internship with Jim in 1981 as an undergraduate student at Washington University in St. Louis. I walked the streets of the JVL neighborhood with Jim and Mr. Shepard. I saw first hand how important relationships in community were to the success of the work. Jim showed me how the projects were funded and how there were operated. Most of all, Jim showed me his passion for the work and making a difference in the lives of everyone who lived in the JVL neighborhood. He told me the work is hard but oh so rewarding when success happens. I was hooked. I decided that Urban Studies would be my major and I continued to stay in touch with Jim well after my internship ended. Today at Beyond Housing there is little we are doing that was not already done by Jim and the folks at JVL – we are testament to their legacy and we stand on their shoulders.
On the personal front when the word got out about Jim’s passing so many kind words came in. Almost without exception the tone and tenor was consistent – Jim was one of the kindest, loving people everyone ever met. Here are some of the messages:
“I wanted to reach out and share my sadness about the loss of the great Jim Sporleder. Your dad was one of the first examples of a kind, warm, bright and loving father that I encountered in my young life. I’ll always think of him so fondly, in flannel and glasses, smiling out at the world.”
“I only knew Jim Sporleder for about ten years. He was a warm and wonderful man. He loved to tell stories and he loved kids. In this picture he is comforting his granddaughter Lilly who was having a bad moment or two. When I heard he passed from our lives, this picture came to mind. To me it is a perfect example of Jim. I will miss him.”
“Just learned of the loss of Jim Sporleder. Jim was a very special man, he will be missed by so many, was loved and admired by many. I had the honor of knowing Jim since I was 7 years old, and he was one of the kindest, smartest, funniest and humblest men I’ve encountered. My family moving down the street from the Sporleder family is one of the great strokes of fortune I’ve had, and I cherish knowing Jim and spending time with him over the years.”
“I knew your Dad and I always thought to myself ‘This is exactly what a Dad should be…’ His temperament, generosity, energy, kindness, enthusiasm for the job, simplicity, always seemed grounded. You had a great, great Father. I think of him and a few other good Dads when I need help knowing what to do.”
“I was always inspired by Jim’s gentle spirit. Always with a kind word for people. What a role model.”
“He was an amazing man and father (and great surrogate father to many of us).”
“If ever there was a loving and devoted father you surely had one. He was a gem and you all are so blessed to have called him Dad.”
The real footprints of Jim Sporleder’s life are that he had a lasting impact on everyone that he encountered in his 76 years. His footprints are seen in everything Beyond Housing does today. His footprints are seen in all the people he touched in his decades of service to those in need in our region. His footprints are seen in his children, grandchildren and everyone else that felt his gracious smile, warm heart and never ending kindness. Jim Sporleder you will be missed but we will carry on and try to walk in your footprints as best we can.
I’ve been working in community development in the St. Louis area for 25 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Beyond Housing since 1993. While I’m proud of our accomplishments, I don’t claim to be an expert. At Beyond Housing, the experts we listen to are the voices of the community members we serve. I’ll be raising issues here that I believe matter to our community. I hope you’ll join the conversation. We do reserve the right not to post comments containing offensive language. To paraphrase Dr. King, we can disagree without being disagreeable.