Could I be the luckiest guy?

Tomorrow will be May 3, 2024. I will turn 80.

This was the house on Stockton Street in Alpine, Texas, where Dr. Omer and Lois Sperry lived at that time. The house was taken down several years ago, probably to make room for a new house. Click image for larger view.

Mom and Dad had grown up in Nebraska. Both had attended the University of Nebraska, where Dad got his PhD in Botany.

A fitting entrance to a charming campus.

They settled in Alpine where Dad founded the Biology Department at Sul Ross State Teachers College (now Sul Ross State University).

Alpine as seen from Hancock Hill. That’s part of Sul Ross in the lower left. (Photo by Cyndy Smith) Click image for larger view.

If you’ve not been to Alpine, let me just tell you that it’s nestled in mountains, the county seat of Brewster County, the largest county in Texas. Alpine is near the north end of the county. Big Bend National Park is at the south end.

Alpine may be the friendliest town in Texas, and the way that they look at themselves was reflected in this old mural on a wall near Morrison’s True Value Hardware, one of my favorite stores of my life. The mural is gone, but the kindness remains.

As of 2020, the entire county had 9,546 residents. Of those, 6,035 live in Alpine. Those numbers weren’t that large when my folks moved there.

Alpine is 219 miles from El Paso. However, my folks usually opted to travel to San Antonio instead, even though that meant a journey of 378 miles one way.

Here’s my dad. Read what the 1945 Sul Ross Annual had to say about him. That Dean of Men thing was an elected position. Click image for larger view.

My parents were well grounded in the tightly knit Alpine community. That was a time when friends had to pull together, first for the Great Depression, then for support in World War II.

During all that time – the first 17 years of their marriage – they were unable to have children. As a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, I can only imagine their anxiety. Mom was a schoolteacher and school librarian, and my dad loved kids from the start.

And so it was that 80 years ago tomorrow the phone rang in that house and Omer and Lois Sperry heard that their son had been born in San Antonio. (I’m feeling tears well up in my eyes. I can’t even begin to picture the conversation that followed that call.)

I was adopted at birth. It actually took six weeks for them to accumulate enough gasoline and tire ration stamps to make the journey. Alpine pitched in to help. Everyone rallied around Omer and Lois. After I lost my mom in 1991 I found the extras of those stamps in a little box of her belongings.

My parents’ best friends were Dr. Bill and Lora Bell Lockhart. Bill was a physician. He was called into service during the war and spent most of four years in the Pacific Theater. Lora Bell wrote often, and I guess Bill brought all of her letters home, because one of their daughters has only recently come across them. About two weeks ago Mary Bell started sending me excerpts from them – things that pertained to Omer, Lois, her parents, and Baby Neil.

Please allow me to share a few of the best. Remember as you read these that Omer was 42 and Lois was 39 when I was adopted, and although both were from large families, they had lived in a quiet house together for 17 years. That was about to change.

(As I read these notes back and forth between the Lockharts I had to smile. I had the feeling that Mom and Dad had me out on a test drive through the community. I say that with all respect – see what you think.)

My dad was quite the photographer. He took all the family photos. You never saw both of his hands in his photos. He had the squeeze ball shutter release in the hidden hand.

*May 14, 1944 Lora Bell to Bill:
Lois asked me today if I would go to Santone at the end of this month to help her come back with the baby. Of course I would like to go and if everything is OK here I believe I shall. I think Lois is getting quite excited and don’t blame her. There are many reasons why having a baby that way is a greater shock than the long months of preparation when one is more or less sure of the time of arrival. Omer wouldn’t let her make any advance preparations so there are any number of things to be arranged for now. I do so hope the baby is all they expect, don’t you? They have considered it so long and weighed every angle so carefully it would be awful if it didn’t work out well now. Well, as soon as he arrives I will tell you all about him. I don’t see how they can wait so long to see him.

*May 27, 1944 Lora Bell to Bill:
Sent off an order to Sears today for various items needed and noted they advertise Kodachrome film. I ordered a roll and hope we get it. Omer will take them with his 35 mm. I imagine the Sperry baby will be the most photographed kid in the world, don’t you?
…. Sperrei leave for Santone tomorrow to get the new edition.

*May 31, 1944 Lora Bell to Bill: Tomorrow the Sperrys are due home with the baby.

*June 2, 1944 Bill to Lora Bell:
I am glad that Omer & Lois have adopted a boy! The kids will think that you just go to Santone & come back with a baby – just like that!

*June 2, 1944 Lora Bell to Bill:
We went over to view the Sperry baby last evening. He is a nice looking baby now at four weeks. I believe they are both satisfied and happy about it – if a bit tired.

*June 29, 1944 Lora Bell to Bill:
What do you think of little Sperry? Isn’t he cute? Lois feels and looks so well. I think she is a different person.

August 27, 1944 Lora Bell to Bill:
Were over at Sperrys last eve. Lois and Omer tied down with Neil prefer to have us come there….. Little Neil is growing so fast. They both are beginning to think a lot of Neil though. Even Omer was telling some little tales about his behavior.

September 12, 1944 Bill to Lora Bell:
Glad the Sperrys are happy with Neil. I believe your joy increases as the child grows older – particularly after they can talk & look after most of their affairs.

October 7, 1944 Lora Bell to Bill:
Lois and Omer came by with Neil a few minutes last evening. The baby smiles so at Omer we can see they are already good friends. Lois says they are ganging up on her. He is so cute with the biggest blue eyes you ever saw.

October 15, 1944 Bill to Lora Bell:
Glad Omer & Lois are happy about Neil – I imagine their entire lives have changed.

October 16, 1944 Lora Bell to Bill:
I drove with Lois to Marfa tonight. Omer has been out on field trips with some big botanists who are here – and of course need him to ‘show them around.’ Tomorrow they go to Presidio. They are looking for certain things and of course you know Omer – he has this country pretty well spotted. Well we went over early and had supper at the Old Borunda. It was very good food. We came right home. Had a nice visit. I don’t have much time to visit with Lois anymore. She has Neil you know. He is so cute and was so good on the trip.

Back to why I called this meeting (from Neil)…
Am I the luckiest guy in the world? Without a doubt! First, (I’ve never written this before) my birth mother had the courage to put me up for adoption as a blind act of faith. I guess it goes without saying – I am so immensely grateful. I know nothing about the rest of my biological family. I guess that might have been interesting, but somehow it just felt unfaithful.

My dad involved me in everything he did. He was a born teacher – a leader.

My dad taught me woodworking. He taught me how to lay brick. He taught me how to paint. He taught me photography. He taught me how to identify plants with a botanical key. He taught me the importance of an education. He taught me how to do real research and not just to fall for uneducated, irresponsible hunches and claims. He taught me to have pride in my work, and he taught me how to treat people, including my mother. I never saw my dad angry. When I list the real heroes of my life, standing at the front of that line with a smile is Omer Edison Sperry.

My dad was alongside me for my first garden. He bought the seeds and he bought the peat moss. He rototilled the ground, and he hoed the weeds. But when I started harvesting the beans, my dad stood off to the side. Those were my beans I took in to my mom. My dad just stood there and smiled. I lost my dad 49 years, one month and 29 days ago, and I still miss him as if it were yesterday.

And I loved my mom deeply as well. She was ever my encourager. She reminded me of how many people I would be able to help – how many people would be counting on me. She was involved with my schools, my scouts, and all my hobbies to boot. She baked the best cinnamon rolls and my favorite chocolate chip cookies.

But maybe the best thing Mom ever did for me (I say with a wink and a smile) was when she didn’t come from Texas to a Mother’s Day luncheon at my Alpha Zeta Fraternity at Ohio State in 1965. I found an empty seat at one of the tables. It happened to be beside the sister of one of our pledges. I’ve been married to that pledge’s sister for the past 57 years!

Thank you for letting me express my heartfelt gratitude for all who have joined arms around me so far to make my first 80 years such a blessing. I couldn’t have made it without you.

And that goes especially to Omer and Lois. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to call them tonight, to hear their voices and surprise them again like the call they got 80 years ago tomorrow.

It’s all in the perspective. Here’s a photo from the Sul Ross campus overlooking Alpine from a bit closer in. What you see now is an actual urban forest. I believe you can tell that I love me some Alpine! (And Marfa. And Fort Davis. And the whole Big Bend Country! Just like my mom and dad did.) Click image for larger view.
Posted by Neil Sperry
Back To Top