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.”