The Spiekers of Hillsboro have been together 70 years

The Christmas season of 1941 was not an overly festive time. The whole world was in turmoil, with warfare raging across Europe and Asia — and just a couple weeks earlier, on Dec. 7, the United States had been shocked by the devastating Japanese military strike on Pearl Harbor.

Yet as war clouds spread, some semblance of normalcy played out in the rural heartland of the nation, including in Raeville, Neb., a tiny farming community — population 100 — where folks gathered for a holiday dance.

Alvina Lordemann went to the dance with another young man, but that did not deter Sylvester “Pat” Spieker, who noticed her across the HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Alvina and Pat Spieker will celebrate seven decades of marriage in a June 1 ceremony at their home in Hillsboro.

“Well, that gal looks very good,” Pat recalled thinking.

Alvina noticed him, too.

“I can still see him standing out there,” said Alvina.

Spieker was from the nearby town of Petersburg, just a few miles from Raeville, but he had taken a maintenance job at a factory in Detroit, Mich., and was only home for the holiday season. He had to go back to Michigan soon, and even though she was there with another, Pat was bold enough to ask Alvina if he could give her a ride home.

No, she told him; she would go with the boy who brought her to the dance.

“But I asked if I could write her,” he said.

Pat was 26, and Alvina was 24.

“Old enough to know better,” joked Alvina.

Pat’s letters must have made an impact, because about a year and a half later — on June 1, 1943 — the two got married in Raeville and danced at the same dance hall in which they’d met.

Alvina is now 94, and Pat is 96. And on June 1, the Spiekers — a longtime Hillsboro couple with six children (three boys and three girls), 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren — will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.

There will be a family gathering, including a celebration of Mass and renewal of vows officiated by Father Jim Galluzzo of Hillsboro’s St. Matthew Catholic Church, where Alvina and Pat Spieker have been members since 1956. Galluzzo also celebrated Mass for the couple’s 50th anniversary.

The couple’s story is a living history lesson. After they married, Alvina joined her husband in Michigan, where she got a job in a factory building airplane engines as part of the war effort.

Near-tragedy in Canada

“I made more money than Pat did,” Alvina recalled with a laugh.

Pat decided he wanted to be an aviation mechanic, and after a year and a half of training, he ended up stationed at an airfield in Goose Bay, Labrador, in eastern Canada, where he was part of a crew servicing the many aircraft coming and going.

While Pat was working in Canada in 1945, Alvina went back to Raeville to live at home.

“I signed a one-year contract to gas planes up and service them,” Pat recalled. “One night we were real busy. There was trouble with every plane that came in.”

Flight crews were supposed to wait for a signal from the ground crew before starting the engines and taxiing out for takeoff. But something went wrong on this night.

While Pat was stepping out to give the all-clear sign to the crew of a cargo plane, someone on board hit the switch to start one of the engines. A propeller spun around in the darkness, hit Pat in the head and knocked him out.

Far away in Nebraska, Alvina would receive a telegram that probably created more dread than hearing nothing.

“I’ll never forget that,” she said. “I got a telegram that read: ‘Sylvester injured. We’ll let you know more later.’ A telegram!”

Because of atmospheric interference that prevented Goose Bay from making telephone calls, it was two more days before Alvina learned that her husband was going to fully recover.

“I was in the hospital for two weeks,” Pat said. “What a headache.”

After the war ended, Pat and Alvina returned to Nebraska. Pat had a job with the Rural Electrification Administration, providing electricity for farmhouses in the region, but dust storms started coming back.

To Hillsboro in 1956

“We remembered the ‘Dirty ’30s,’” Alvina explained, referring to the infamous Dust Bowl days of the 1930s when farming became very difficult. “I had a sister in Oregon, and we figured we’d at least have some fruit there. So that’s why we came to Oregon.”

In 1956, the Spiekers moved to Hillsboro. At that time, the city had about 5,500 residents.

“It was ‘Westward Ho!’ with six kids,” said daughter Vivian Feldman, who lives in Portland. “They went with no place to live and no jobs.”

But the couple had faith they could make it work, and that faith paid off.

“I didn’t even have a high school degree, and I had to take exams for an Oregon electrician’s license to get a job,” Pat said. “The first time, I flunked, but the second time I passed it with flying colors. I got a job with Local 48 and stayed with them, working for Ben Faber Electric.”

Meanwhile, Alvina worked at the old Birds Eye cannery downtown — where the Washington County Jail is now located — and at Montgomery Ward.

The family lived at 248000 N.W. Cornell Road, right next to where Intel is today.

“It was a great place to raise a family,” said Pat.

“Back then, there was only a farm across from the airport, and from St. Mary’s to Hillsboro, there was just one stop light,” said daughter Sue Purdy, a Hillsboro resident.

Cornell Road was just a two-lane, meandering county lane, but a growing population necessitated upgrading it.

“They were going to make Cornell Road a fairly wide road, and the city expected us to donate 15 feet of our property so they could do that,” Pat said. “Donate!”

Alvina said the changes eventually forced them to move.

“Intel came in, and the city of Hillsboro taxed us out,” Alvina said. “Our property taxes went from $1,500 a year to $15,000.”

Now, there are storage units where the Spieker’s house used to be.

“It was a wild ride,” said Feldman. “Even as kids, Mom and Dad were great role models. They had a great work ethic, having lived through the Great Depression. ‘God helps those who help themselves’ was a big mantra in our family.”

“Their faith was been huge in their lives,” said Purdy. “That’s what they instilled in us — very strong faith.”

“Mom and Dad worked hard at blue collar jobs so each of us six kids could go to college. As a result we have had more job and life opportunities,” said their son Ron, a teacher who lives in Fox Island, Wash. “Through good times and bad times, they kept their sense of humor, and I always knew I was supported and loved.”

So what is the Spieker’s secret to being happily married for so long?

“Fifty-fifty,” said Pat.

“You give a little and take a little,” agreed Alvina. “And you never go to sleep at night without saying ‘I love you.’ You never know what happens in the night, and by morning one could be gone.”

Alvina said they have much to be thankful for.

“We’ve been blessed,” she said. “We have traveled all around the whole world. With Trans World Airlines, at one time, for $300, you could fly wherever they flew for 30 days, and we did that. The only sad thing is, we never got to Philadelphia; never saw the Liberty Bell. Oh well, we’ve lived without it.”

Since September, Alvina and Pat have been residing at the Green Park Adult Foster Care facility in Hillsboro, and they say they love it.

“It’s like coming home,” said Alvina. “We’ve had a great life. The good Lord has blessed us with 70 years together. Can you believe that?”

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