Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.

It’s a Beautiful Life–Kathy Spess Bell!


One of my cousins went Home last week–Kathy Spess Bell (my mama loved her name and called her Kathy Nell) daughter of Paul and Wilma Spess, and sister to Rick, Lindy and Kim. She’ll be oh, so very missed by her family!

She had such a full life! I wanted to hear all about her, so her son, Luke, offered to fill us in.

I’m thrilled to be able to share his words and pictures with you.


Thank you, Susan, for allowing me space to honor my mom, Kathy. She was so special to my dad and me. I just wanted an opportunity to share that with others she touched and lost contact with.

My name is Luke and I am the only child of Alan and Kathy.

Luke, Kathy & Alan

Luke, Kathy & Alan

I don’t know where to start, so I guess I’ll start at the beginning of when I met my mom. It was the dead of winter; Mom and Dad had just moved to Mt. Home, Idaho, and they didn’t know anyone. Thousands of miles away from her family, Mom was pregnant with me.

I guess I couldn’t wait, because I popped out over a month early and surprised everybody. And that’s when I met my mom, my best friend, and the two of us depended on each other ever since.

Dad was in the Air Force and was often expected to be on call all the time. Mam’ma (that’s what I call my grandma, Wilma) and Geneva Delancey came out to visit as soon as they could and my grandparents on my dad’s side came out later. But for the most part, it was just mom and I.

A couple years later, Dad had to do a remote assignment in Greenland for a year. So it really was just mom and I, but she was strong and I was always by her side.

When I was old enough to go to school, we lived in Sumter, South Carolina. Because of districting, the school that I should have gone to was in a bad part of town. Instead Mom and Dad enrolled me in a private school and Mom would drive me across town to school every day. She tried subbing there, but local politics discouraged that. However, they did allow her to volunteer all she wanted.

And volunteer she did. She was one of the main room mothers and in charge of organizing events and bringing cookies and treats for holidays, parties, birthdays, and more. Of course, Mom wasn’t content with just raising me, so she decided to continue her education.


So where does a shy, wallflower like Mom go to school – Clown College. Yes, she was a professional clown. She took classes on how to perform, put on makeup, and make balloon animals. She had a fancy clown outfit made and even registered her clown name, Belly Bean. She taught me how to make the balloon animals and made a costume for me. Then, together, we would perform skits and entertain at the hospital and nursing homes with her as Belly Bean and me, of course, as Belly Button.

We continued to perform even after Dad got orders to move half way around the world to the lovely, tropical island of Guam. It was here where God showed Mom her true calling.

The elementary school I went to needed a librarian and they hired Mom full time. She was finally able to combine her passion for kids with entertaining and performing skits, all while teaching and fostering a love of reading in students. She was the librarian for only a year and then we had to move again – this time to Altus, Oklahoma.

In Oklahoma, you have to have a master’s degree in library science to be a school librarian. So in addition to taking me to school, substitute teaching, being a room mother, going to Dad’s Air Force functions, driving six hours to Mannford to help her mom often, preparing meals for my dad’s grandparents in Rush Springs, shuttling my friends and I to band concerts, soccer games, and other activities; my Super Mom went back to school.

Lindy, Kim & Kathy

Lindy, Kim & Kathy

She would pick me up after school, whip up supper for Dad and I, and then drive an hour and a half from Altus to Weatherford for evening classes. Often with Dad and I were already in bed before she got home, but I would wake up the next morning and she would have breakfast ready.

She finished her degree in 2 1/2 years and, once again, it was time to move. But this time it was different, because Dad was retiring from the Air Force after 20 years of service. This time we had a choice of where to move. So after much prayer, my parents decided that we would move somewhere where I could finish my high school all in one place. Walking in faith, we moved to Stillwater with neither of them having jobs.

August 1973

August 1973

They had met, fallen in love, and gotten married while at OSU and felt this was the right place to be and we’ve been here ever since. But I can’t say it was easy. Dad was also called to teach, so he took jobs and drove daily to Tulsa and, later, Enid.

Since there were no library jobs open in the area, Mom took a job as a teacher’s aide for Kindergarten and first grade. But Mom was soon hired at Mulhall-Orlando and was the librarian there for two years.

That is until the May 5th tornado wiped out the town of Mulhall and the elementary school, including Mom’s library. But God is faithful. Her prayers were answered yet again and she didn’t have to rebuild her library.

She was able to take the librarian job at Frontier in Red Rock which is about 40 miles north of Stillwater and where Dad had gotten a job the year before.


But, the thing that brought her the most joy, was having a student come back to the library excited about reading and wanting to tell her about how great the book was that she had recommended and ask her if there were any more like it. She accomplished so much while she was there, but it came at the cost of her health. If you haven’t figured it out yet, she was a workaholic.

She was the most dedicated and humble person I know. All Mom cared about was doing the best job she could for God and the students she loved so much. I’m reminded how in Matthew 5:16, it says to “let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

God finally said enough and kept her from going back to Frontier in August by preventing her knees from bending enough to get in the car. And she was never able to leave our house again. Mom never wanted anyone to worry about her, especially her mom, or to be a burden on her family.

Sadly, I will never know if she approves of my future wife and I’ll never be able to go to her for advice on how to raise my kids. Though, as awkward as it was talking to her about girls, she did give me good advice for finding a wife.

She always told me to find a girl with a rich daddy. So if anyone knows a girl with a rich…Just kidding!


I just want God to show me one with a heart for others as big as Mom’s. And in closing I would like to focus on two passages from the Bible that I thought were comforting.

1 Corinthians 15:42-44 So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though we are outwardly wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving us an external glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

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Author: Susan Shay

For as long as I can remember, I've loved two things--reading and people--and that led me to become a writer. Many of my stories are set in Small Town Worlds. I'm a wife, mother, sibling and an aunt. I have a deep faith in God, and an exciting life in Christ. Maybe I shouldn't be (after all, he's God!) but I'm constantly amazed at the things He's up to. :)

13 thoughts on “It’s a Beautiful Life–Kathy Spess Bell!

  1. Thanks for wonderful tribute. Judy and I both enjoyed this.

    • Didn’t he do a great job, Larry? He’s just younger than my #1 son. Kathy and I bother were married the same year and had our first child within a year of each other.
      I’ve just met Luke a few times, but I’m so proud of him.

  2. I know Kathy as a neighbor down a dirt road in Pawnee County, Oklahoma.
    And, proud to say what wonderful years those were over fifty years ago.
    Will always remember Kathy and her family to be very hard working individuals.
    It is no surprised to me that Alan & Kathy’s Son is able to write
    such kind words at such a difficult moment.

    Thank you Luke for sharing from your heart and all the love your Mother instilled in you.
    Parke Brian Keener

  3. Luke,
    Thank you for giving us a look at your life with your mom. I grew up with your mom and her sister Kim. We went to school together at Mannford and played basketball. Even though it has been many years since I had seen your mom, it seems like yesterday when we were walking the halls of Mannford High School. God bless you and your dad.

    Jacalyn Greenwood Gifford

  4. What a beautiful tribute to Kathy! She was my cousin as Paul Spess, her Dad, is my first cousin! I knew all the kids starting with Rick! They are a lovely family and I am sorry that we had lost touch with Kathy! To all the family, I would like to say that I am so sorry for your loss and you are in my prayers! Love and sympathy to all of you from the Fisher kids.

  5. Luke, what a beautiful tribute to your mom. She really was a special lady. I went to school with her in Mannford many years ago. She was always very sweet to me. It is a wonderful thing knowing that you will get to see her again in the future. And by the way the world is going, it won’t be very long. I too, have a mom that I am waiting to see in Heaven. May God’s grace and love comfort you and your family.

  6. That was such a beautiful tribute. My heartfelt prayers to your family! Your Uncle Rick is a favorite person of mine. So is your cousin, Susan.

  7. Thank you all for the prayers of support. My dad and I really appreciate and find comfort in them.

    Susan, I sent you an email, but I want to thank you publicly for blessing Mom by allowing me to share a little about her life. As I told you, we would read your blog and your stories of growing up and she would try to tell me who was who and how everyone was connected. I must admit, I would get lost in all the Mitchells, Fishers, and Spesses. The engineer in me needed a chart so I could see the connections.

    I know she had fond memories of you, Mr. Keener. Mr. Lawrence, she tried to tell me how your wife, Judy, was related to the family. And she tried to straighten me out on all the Fisher girls, Ms. Almy. I find myself wanting to go ask her right now so I can get everyone figured out. I can barely remember where I went to school growing up, but Mom could rattle off names and details of stories with such ease.

    I know she had regrets not keeping in touch with family and friends. It was just hard for her to open up. With her upbringing, her parents divorce, being away from everyone while we moved around in the Air Force, and her work being her life; she was just so independent. When her arthritis finally forced her to slow down, she did not want anyone to know how hard just living really was and she did not want to burden anyone with her problems.

    Thank you again for the prayers. I am overjoyed that she has received the total healing that we had been praying for and I know without any doubt that she lives, because He lives.


  8. Luke, what a heart felt tribute to your mother, Kathy.

    My parents were pastors at a church in Mannford and I knew the Spess families every since 1957.

    I remember pretty Kathy with her beautiful ringlets of hair, always soft spoken, kind and smiling.

    Through the many years that pass and many miles between, one never forgets the impression such a lovely being as Kathy can make and, by the words you speak, her legacy lives on in you.

  9. I really enjoyed seeing the pics of Kathy . Thank you so much for sharing and letting us see into your life. Family is very special and your tribute showed us how much Kathy loved her family. Our sympathy to you and your family.

  10. I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing hers & your life. I feel she gave you just what you need in choosing your wife. I thank God that you will see her again. I know these next days are not easy. I hope you find comfort with knowing our Lord is walking with you. My heartfelt sympathies to you, your dad & Kathy’s family. Prayers for all.

  11. What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful life. Her life story makes me think of that great old movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I can tell you think so, Luke! Thank you both for posting this. How much poorer this world would be without her contributions to it.

I'm so glad you dropped by my Small Town World! Hope you'll leave a comment. I really enjoy hearing from you!

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