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From an early age, Jerry Spring was enthralled by flight. Soaring thousands of feet above ground offered a shift in perspective and a thrilling adventure, even on familiar routes.
He became an Alaska Airlines pilot during the golden age of aviation in the 1960s: a time when intuition and a dash of fearlessness helped steer the manual control systems.
Spring’s desire to see things from a different vantage point — along with his Christian faith — drove many aspects of his life, from traveling the world with his wife, Joan, to helping people experiencing homelessness in his region.
Spring died April 8 at age 85 of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. He left behind a legacy of serving people, animals and the environment, remarked the people who knew him.
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, on May 1, 1934, Spring inherited a strong moral compass from his parents, who sold recreational vehicles for a living. After graduating from high school in Vancouver, Wash., Spring served in the Air Force during the Korean War, which offered the flight training his family otherwise couldn’t afford.
His dream of becoming a flight captain was realized when he joined Alaska Airlines in 1966. A few years later he met Joan, a flight attendant who would chat with him to stay alert during overnight flights. “We could just visit together and it was easy to talk to each other,” Joan Spring said. The two married in 1976 in Renton.
During their first years as a couple, they helped raise Jerry Spring’s three daughters from a previous marriage — Vickie Spring, Susan Ludwig and Sandra Spring — and later had two children together, Stephen and Sarah. The family bought five acres of land in Kent where Spring built a house, and they raised livestock such as goats, chickens, llamas, sheep, horses and cattle as pets.
A country boy at heart, Spring loved the outdoors and instilled his exploratory spirit in his kids. The family would rent a tiny cabin in Canada and traverse the surrounding waters on his boat, fishing and crabbing for their food, recalled his daughter, Sarah Spring Everett of West Seattle. “I thought it was the coolest thing in the world: going out to the ocean, fishing with dad,” said his son, Stephen Spring of Auburn.
After his 1994 retirement from Alaska Airlines, Spring devoted his life to helping people in need and deeply committing to his faith. While he always identified as Christian, Spring converted to Catholicism in his mid-60s and became more active at his parish, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Covington. As a member of the Catholic fraternal service group Knights of Columbus, he hauled goods from food vendors to a Covington food bank.
Spring was a founding member of an interdenominational homeless shelter called HOME, which has since been incorporated into Catholic Community Services. Every few weeks, he would wake up at 3:30 a.m. Monday through Wednesday to serve breakfast and provide lunches for the visitors.
His volunteerism also stretched abroad to Guatemala: After he saw villagers there cooking food on open fires, he was so concerned about the health risks that he spearheaded a fundraiser to install more than 300 stoves with chimneys, said Joan Spring. On a second trip, he helped renovate some of the houses.
“What Jerry realized was that every person had a sense of self that mattered,” said fellow parishioner Jim Tanasse.
Along with his volunteer work, Spring spent his retirement traveling around the country in a camper van with Joan.
A month after returning from a trip to Hawaii, Spring fell ill in late March. While he was a strong 85-year-old who would regularly chop his own wood, his health rapidly declined. He tested positive for the novel coronavirus on April 2 and spent his last week in and out of lucidity. On his final day, Spring Everett delivered an iPad to her father’s hospital room, and the entire family joined him through a video call from their separate homes. They told him that they loved him, as they listened to the alarms from his vital sign monitors go off and watched him pass away.
“I said goodbye to my husband on a little cellphone,” said Joan Spring.
Spring Everett hopes other COVID-19 patients will not spend their last days unable to see their loved ones. Her father’s experience encouraged her to co-organize a Facebook fundraiser to place tablets into COVID-19 isolation rooms throughout the region. The campaign had raised over $13,000 by May 5, and more than a dozen hospitals received donated devices, said Spring Everett.
Spring Everett believes her campaign is helping to continue her father’s legacy: “It’s a way to honor him,” she said.
While the family has found it difficult to grieve in isolation, Joan Spring said they’ve felt overwhelming support from their community. On a recent Saturday morning, the Springs’ neighbors wore masks and gathered, 6 feet apart, to finish one of Jerry Spring’s favorite activities: chopping a large pile of wood in their yard.