Tribute to Chris Spagnola

My wife’s Dad passed on May 26th, a few months shy of his 99th birthday.

A long life, well lived. In every respect, Chrisopher Spagnola was the epitome of our “Greatest Generation.”

Like others born into large immigrant families Upstate in the early 1900s, his growing up in the depression era faced hardship that shaped life perspective and was then reset by the enormity and calamity of World War II.

Volunteering to serve in the Army Air Corps, Chris quickly advanced to flight school where he was commissioned an officer and at 23 years old, commanded a nine man crew as he piloted a B-24 bomber in the European theater.

He flew combat missions until Germany’s surrender and his 36 combat missions exceeded the 32 mission requirement making him eligible to return to the U.S. for non combat duty. To put this in context consider that by his volunteering to fly more combat missions, he was aware that within the 8th Air Force Bomb Group he was part of there was about a 25% fatality rate on the bomber missions being flown in that time period.

Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and seven other medals recognizing his extraordinary valor and combat record, Chris continued his military service in the Air Force Reserves, retiring as Lt. Colonel in 1972.

At the close of WWII he returned to Auburn NY where he married his hometown sweetheart Clementine “Dutch” Boglione for a union lasting 62 years until her passing in 2010.
In 1946 he obtained his commercial pilot’s license but declined an offer to fly for American Airlines to instead begin building the Auburn Foundry company – which he ran as co-owner and President until his retirement in 2006. The business remains one of Upstate’s last independent foundries – a testament to the strong foundation and team he built.

Putting others ahead of self

Given his war record, extended military service and success as a local businessman, accolades from those exploits alone would be a full life for many. But for Chris, life wasn’t about achievement as much as it was making a difference for others in ways that might not garner recognition, but truly had an impact.
He volunteered across a whole range of organizations like Knights of Columbus, Kiwanis, his local golf club and others. Chris successfully led an effort to engage an entire neighborhood of lakeside residents to pool their resources for creating a paved county road and bring in sewer and water to the area – something that would not have happened without a collective citizen coalition such as he put together.

Beyond being active as a leader who got things done, it was Chris’s persona of easy going, rock solid integrity and always sensitive to the feelings and situation of others that endeared him to all he met.

He lived a Christian life doing things that made a difference in the lives of others, including for disadvantaged people on the margins of society. Appreciated by his community, he more than deserved the reputation of being a soft spoken, low-key hero.

Role model for the next generations

Chris was a hero to me and someone I appreciated from the first day we met 40 years ago.

As I matured, I also grew in my understanding of how the role model he was influenced his daughter Krista in ways that both attracted me to her and set the foundation for own marriage.
So as our children were in elementary school in California, and we thought hard about our priorities in their upbringing, uprooting from Silicon Valley in 1999 to come home was very much based in having our kids take advantage of the special grandparents they had.

These last 17 years with him have been more than special. As saddened as we are to no longer have him with us, we’ll forever cherish both the memories of our time together and how lucky we were to have him be such an influence in shaping our lives.

The example he set in living a truly full and impactful life inspires me, our family and the lives of others he touched. His legacy lives on and will never be forgotten.

“Those we love can never be more than a thought apart, for as long as there is memory, they’ll live on in the heart.”


Road Trip: Spending time with those we love


I just completed a drive home to Little Falls, New York originating from the San Francisco Bay Area.

With a few zigs and zags, it was about 3300 miles over 8 days.

This was my 9th cross country road trip, but the first with my son Jared since 1999 when our entire family relocated from Silicon Valley to my Upstate hometown by way of a 2 week cruise in an RV. He was then 6 years old so memories were a bit sketchy for him about that experience.

Now as a young man with an experienced traveler’s curious eye, Jared’s interest in a road trip evoked a positive reaction as soon as I brought up the idea.

While the ostensible reason was to transport a car we had in California to our home in Little Falls, I didn’t hide my interest in both the road trip experience and our spending some quality time together.

Because of winter weather risk traversing the Rockies this time of year, we took a southern route heading east along Interstate 40 and the old U.S. Route 66.

Desert and high plains from Las Vegas to Santa Fe were particularly scenic, and we veered off for side stops sometimes on a whim – like after seeing roadside billboards for the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

In comparison with cross country trips I did a decade or longer ago, I was struck this time by how much easier it is now with so many enhancements in the richness and ease of accessing information while on the fly.

We began the drive with no more planning than a general idea of the route and then made it up as we went along each day.

Google map features making it easy to pick up interesting attractions and stops along the route added to the process of discovery – so there was no difficulty in figuring out options we wouldn’t be experiencing back home, including dining in memorable settings like The Big Texan in Amarillo.

In picking the route we also stopped by to see a few friends, each of who had something to add to Jared’s experience. Our most memorable being time with my personal hero and mentor Jack Stack as we re-connected with him for the first time in about a decade.

The highlight for me though was the time Jared and I spent being together without distraction of outside influences. Sharing our observations, perspectives and thoughts in a relaxed way without the pressure of the next deadline or meeting.

We know that the convenience and relatively low cost of commercial air travel combine to put a big dent in long distance family road trips.

The wider range of leisure options we can easily find also builds a subtle time pressure to pack as much as we can into any time off period, perhaps sometimes with a feeling of being ready to tell others about where we’ve been over vacation.

Call me old fashioned, but I still like the road trip as a choice on the week or longer vacation menu. There is so much diversity in scenic beauty, attractions and culture right here in the U.S. Sharing with those we love is an experience best savored without tight timelines driven by flight schedule and limited time in a single location.

I’m a lucky guy to have a 23 year old son that shares that interest and still travels with his Dad. We made some memories together that will be with us always – and that’s what leisure time in our family is all about.