James Wallace Spence, 91, of La Grange died Monday May 3, 2010 at Care Inn of La Grange nursing home.
J. W. was born on January 7, 1919, in Tanglewood, Texas to Mollie Rebecca (Carlile) and Charlie Isaiah Spence.
He was never a stranger to hard work, beginning at age 12 pulling and hoeing cotton in and around Tanglewood. At age 17, he worked for the U. S. government building irrigation canals and roads, clearing forests and building a ranger duplex on Tule Lake in California as part of the Works Projects Administration. He returned to Texas to work for the railroad until joining the Army in 1942.
J, W, was a member of Alpha Co. 184th Infantry, 7th Division during World War II. He first served in the Aleutians as a private first class gunner, then as a buck sergeant in charge of mortars. His next tour was in the South Pacific, where he was promoted to staff sergeant in charge of weapons, mortars and machine guns. He fought in battles at Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, Pacific, (where he was injured and received the Purple Heart); Leyte Island, Philippine Islands, Pacific; and Okinawa, Japanese Island Territory. J. W. was also awarded a Bronze Star Medal, an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with five bronze stars, the Good Conduct Medal and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with two bronze stars.
At the end of the war, he mustered out of the service and returned to the Milam/Lee County area, where he met and married Reba Celeste Devers on August 4, 1945. He worked for Western Auto for a few months before deciding to try his hand in the oil fields of West Texas. J. W. worked for Penrod Drilling in Odessa, Ozona, Fort Stockton, Snyder, Crane and Brownfield in Texas and Eunice, Lovington and Hobbs in New Mexico. After starting a family, J. W. went to work for H. W. Smith Company in Big Spring, Texas, driving an oil transport truck. In 1963, the Spence family moved to Lubbock, Texas, where J, W. went to work for Cloverlake Dairy. His wife Reba, passed away December 19, 1965.
J. W. married Lillian Maurine (Baker) Rodgers on August 10, 1967. After experiencing a West Texas tornado, J. W.’s new wife and step-daughter wanted to move away from Lubbock. The family moved to Del Valle just outside of Austin, Texas. For the next several years, J. W. worked as a maintenance man for various apartment complexes in Austin. He did a stint as manager of Town Lake Car Wash, served as a “Man Friday” for Life Savings Bank, worked as a night watchman for a supply company and, in 1997, he worked again as a manager for Lazer Car Wash.
At the age of 80, he finally retired to Lumberton, Texas. In March 2007, he came to La Grange to live with his son, Bruce, and daughter-in-law Joelyn. While with them, he made it his job to keep their yard in the best shape it has ever been. He even took the riding mower out for a spin just two weekends ago. He loved the outdoors and working in the yard.
Survivors include a daughter Brenda Spence of Houston; son Bruce Spence and wife Joelyn of La Grange, stepdaughter Connie Cluck and husband David of Lumberton; stepson Rick Rodgers of Liberty Hill; two grandchildren, Zachrey Spence and wife Kristi of Austin and Ashley Kumpe and husband J. D. of Bartlett, Tenn.; four great-grandchildren, Lucas Blake and Lilly Sophia Kumpe of Bartlett, Tenn. and Kylie Celeste and Wyatt James Spence (his namesake) of Austin and seven step great-grandchildren.
J, W, was preceded in death by his first wife Reba; an infant son, James Devers Spence; his parents Mollie and Charlie Spence; four brothers, Cecil, Howard, Robert and Ray Spence; and two sisters, Mary Lou Turner and Pansy Spence.
Memorial contributions may be made to Gardenia E. Janssen Animal Shelter in La Grange or to Second Baptist Church in La Grange.
Visitation is schueduled for Wednesday May 5, 2010, from 8:00 AM until 8:00 PM at Fayette Memorial Funeral Home in La Grange. The family will receive visitors from 6:00 PM until 8:00 PM.
Funeral services are scheduled for Thursday May 6, 2010 at 10:00 AM at Fayette Memorial Funeral Home Chapel.
Graveside services will be held on Friday May 7, 2010 at 11:00 AM at Lubbock City Cemetery.