- Associated Press - Sunday, March 12, 2017

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - Funeral home directors and school principals don’t always remember Roger Spensley’s name, so he has a catchphrase.

“As soon as I say, ‘I’m the guy who makes the wooden candleholders,’ they’ll remember me,” said the retired 69-year-old Dubuquer.

Spensley makes his candleholders mostly in memory of children who are terminally ill, have died in accidents or suffer from serious health-related conditions, the Telegraph Herald (https://bit.ly/2my425O ) reported. Then, he drops them off at locations such as funeral homes, shelters or schools so they can be passed on to relatives.

“Oh, yeah, he’s been here at least a half-dozen times,” said Ed Leonard, of Leonard Funeral Home & Crematory in Dubuque. “When he shows up, it’s an awesome gesture. There’s always positive feedback and very heartfelt thanks.”

Spensley scans over newspaper stories and obituaries to find his recipients.

“He’s very purposeful on who he wants to get these,” said Jean McDonald, Sageville Elementary School principal. “Both encounters I had with him were so enjoyable. Not many people just drop in to do this kind of thing.”

Spensley acknowledged he gets something out of it, too.

“It just gives me the pleasure of helping somebody get through their grieving process,” he said. “I guess you could say there’s somewhat of an inner-spiritual, guiding thing that’s the driving force behind it.”

He has been a woodworker for about seven years, slowly learning how to be more creative.

“A buddy of mine has the internet,” Spensley said, referring to Don Jaeger, who taught him the skill. “Don will do the homework for me. I have to learn to be a little more patient.”

Jaeger admires his friend’s generosity,

“I order things for him and give him pointers here and there,” Jaeger said. “I think it’s a great idea. He’s a good all-around guy.”

Spensley used to run a local roller-skating rental business. He has lived in a rented home in the Key West area for about 12 years.

The small living room is his crowded workspace. Protective tarps are strung from wall to wall. He tore out the carpet, replacing it with plywood around his lathe.

“If I had my ex-wife living here, I wouldn’t be turning wood in the house,” he said, with a laugh. “I’ll be out of here in about a year. They’re putting in a subdivision of homes.”

Until then, he will continue churning out his gifts, which also occasionally include small jewelry boxes or wooden bases that hold lighted angels.

“I’ve given out maybe 100 or 150 of them,” he said. “I don’t do this to get attention. It makes me feel good, and it’s a nice winter hobby when I can’t fish or hunt or golf.”

Mike Schaul, of Express Employment Professionals in Dubuque, recently received a candleholder at his office. Spensley had read about Schaul’s daughter, Bailey, who is suffering from a rare disease that can cause blindness, deafness and other neurological disruptions.

“I just thought that was super neat,” Schaul said. “He’s literally tracking us down to do this. In a world full of crappy things, it’s really neat for someone to do that.”

Despite his usually anonymous approach, Spensley occasionally receives thank-you cards.

“Some of those cards are very touching,” he said. “One of them really made me feel good when it said, ‘Maybe the candle will shed a little light on our darkness.’”


Information from: Telegraph Herald, https://www.thonline.com

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