HELEN CECILIA SPITZER
September 24, 1922 to October 31, 2008
Family and friends, knowing Helen Spitzer’s door was always open, flocked to the historic old Colonial at 2540 West Royalton Road over the years. Helen’s hospitality, all say, was as huge and welcoming as her generous heart. Unfortunately, that heart gave out on Friday, Oct. 31, 2008, when Helen Cecilia Spitzer, 86, died unexpectedly at home, her loving caregivers, Julie and April, with her at the time. Spending her last hours in the place she loved best – the 105-year-old restored residence in Brentwood Lake Village, OH, a community developed by her late husband John A. Spitzer and his brothers – was as Helen would have wanted it, her family said.
“The wind beneath his wings”
Imbued with the kind of sturdy Midwestern values and strong Catholic faith that can sometimes seem quaint and old-fashioned in this day and age, Helen was a traditional housewife who stayed home to raise five children, while her husband worked long hours to build the family business. It paid off. John Spitzer, former Chairman of the Spitzer Organization, a group of companies encompassing automotive retailing and real estate development, turned his father’s modest hardware store in Grafton, OH into multiple auto franchises around the country, eventually becoming one of the nation’s largest automotive retailers.
The Family Store
Helen, meanwhile, with the help of her mother Clara, juggled everything on the domestic end, joking how her husband would leave before the kids got up and arrive home after they went to bed. Always in the kitchen, happy to entertain at the drop of a hat, ever so cheerful, she would sit down with the kids for dinner, then repeat the nightly ritual no matter what time her husband got home.
Eldest son Alan Spitzer, Chairman & CEO of the Spitzer Organization since 1998, extolled his mother’s influence on his father. “She was clearly the wind beneath his wings,” he said. Tragically, John Spitzer (shown above with Helen) passed away on July 29, 1992, just two days short of the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary.
The way she wore her hat…
Back in 1942, John Spitzer, a graduate of Ohio State, was just entering the Army Air Corps when an auburn-haired girl with blue eyes and ruby lips swept him off his feet. Only 5’4″ and 105 lbs soaking wet, the former lead cheerleader at Grafton High School (now Midview High) – so bright she skipped seventh grade – had movie-star looks, an Arlene Dahl beauty mark and a Pepsodent smile – all of which prompted John to propose long-distance from San Antonio, where he was stationed. Helen Kasper, who had never set foot outside Ohio, promptly boarded a train alone to Texas. There’s a picture of her that day (shown right), a darling girl in a straw hat, standing next to the love of her life. The two were married in a military ceremony, John in full dress uniform and saber, Helen in her favorite color, turquoise (shown below).
“Open house 365 days a year”
Born to Frank and Clara Kasper on September 24, 1922 in Litchfield, OH, Helen was one of three girls, including Alice, who is deceased, and Agnes, who later married John’s first cousin, Richard D. Spitzer. Helen’s strong Catholic upbringing did not exclude an impish side. At Lent, for example, perfectly willing to “give up” her favored beverage, Miller Lites, she switched to Bloody Marys. Then there was her devotion to turquoise (turquoise carpet, drapes, furniture, clothing, dishes). Hey! Didn’t it make gift giving easier? But it was Helen’s year-round holiday spirit that thrives in the hearts of those who knew her best. “It was like open house 365 days a year,” said son Alan, who recalls his parents holding court with whoever happened to stop by. “No invitations were needed. Always food, drink, merriment…and good conversation. ALWAYS.”
“We’ll meetcha at 2540!”
Affectionately known as “2540” to literally dozens of people, the Colonial home with its slate roof and green awnings (shown left as it is now and in its original state below right), was built in 1803, the year Ohio achieved statehood. The Spitzers, who purchased the country house after their first-born son was nearly hit by a car in Elyria, turned it into a gathering place replete with all things turquoise, wall displays of unique hotel keys, plates from all over the world, and a huge playground for the children out back. “We’ll meetcha at 2540!” was the catch phrase. One frequent visitor used to call it “The Web,” Alan said. “Once you got in, it was really hard to get out. Not that anyone wanted to.”
“The Big H”
Daughter-in-law Pat Spitzer, who nicknamed Helen “The Big H” because she “was the boss of the whole works,” recalls her mother-in-law’s signature repasts: shrimp trays, veggies and dip, chips and dip, endless cocktail nuts, beer, absolutely anything anyone wanted to drink. Sunday dinner was a sit down affair, roast turkey, fried chicken, prime rib and all the trimmings. “She would call up and ask if we were coming for Sunday dinner,” Pat said, laughing. “Then she would say, ‘I just bought a 16-pound roast!’ There could not ever be too many people at her table.” Then there were the kid snacks that tempted weight-conscious adults from the packed freezer: Klondike bars, ice cream sandwiches, Popsicles. Grandchildren couldn’t wait to visit Grandma Helen.
She even endured westerns
Helen was equally available on any given weekday, usually found at her kitchen table, reading the Elyria Chronicle Telegram or Cleveland Plain Dealer – TV on, fresh coffee and tons of snack food at hand. Although she wasn’t one to say a harsh word about anyone, she used say, “If these walls could talk, they could tell a million stories.” Quoting Pat, “What happened at her kitchen table stayed at her kitchen table.”
Apolitical to a degree, Helen sought counsel on issues and candidates from her family (shown standing L to R in photo, sons Doug, Alan, Randy and Kevin; Helen, Karen and John seated in front), then made up her own mind, thank you very much. A lover of old movies, especially “Gone with the Wind,” a diehard fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes, Helen never missed Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune, and most recently enjoyed American Idol. When the kids were growing up, however, she watched whatever they wanted to watch, even westerns.
“Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!”
A devout Catholic who contributed generously to her hometown parish, as well as many other parishes within the Cleveland Diocese, Helen gave to countless other charities, including several law enforcement organizations. But nothing in her life compared to her love of family. Shown at right with her youngest son Kevin, she could not extol her children’s accomplishments often enough. “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!” she would say. Or, when offering encouragement, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars!” Her children’s friends (as well as Helen’s) heard, “Take your time going, but hurry back.”
Pat, who acted as one of her caregivers at the end, recalls Helen as “the most perfect mother-in-law anyone could ever wish for.” All the in-laws thought that way, she said. “She always made us feel as if we were doing the most wonderful job raising her grandchildren and taking care of her sons. I would call her every night, and she loved hearing details of everything everybody did.”
Helen is survived by her sister, Agnes Spitzer of Fostoria, OH; oldest son Alan and wife Pat of Medina, OH; son Randy and wife Chris of Bath, OH; Douglas of Akron, OH; daughter Karen Csonka and husband Jeff of Copley, OH, and youngest son, Kevin and wife Lori of Louisville, OH.
In addition to her husband, Helen was preceded in death by sons Kenneth and Baby Boy (unnamed).
Helen specifically requested her 17 grandchildren be mentioned by name: Michelle, Randi Lynn Farnsworth, Erin Owen, Shannon Blower, Alison Swartz, Ashley, Eric, Alana, Sean, Dane, Dasha, Jordan, Andrew, Britney, AJ & Amelia Spitzer. Also five great-grandchildren: Sydney, Lily, Anna, Colton & Isabel. A sixth great-grandchild is due in March, 2009.
A Catholic Mass to celebrate Helen’s life will be held Thursday, 11:00 a.m., at Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church, 1033 Elm Street Grafton, OH. Burial immediately following at Brookdale Cemetary, 41600 Oberlin-Elyria Road (US 20), Elyria. Memorial contributions in name of Helen C. Spitzer may be sent to: Our Lady, Queen of Peace Building Fund, 1033 Elm Street, Grafton, OH 44044.