Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Obituary: Jesse Edward Sprague - Class of 1966

MADISON - Jesse Edward Sprague, age 57, died Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2006, at home, surrounded by his loving and devoted family. For three years, Jesse battled a brain tumor with courage, patience, dignity and good humor. Jesse was born in Philadelphia, Pa., and as a boy moved with his mother and sister to Madison. Jesse was an outstanding athlete and after graduating from Central High School played with the famed Madison Mustangs semi-professional football team. He graduated from UW-Madison in 1975, and after serving in the National Guard, began his career as a Dane County social worker. He served our community's families and youth with compassion, honesty and respect. In recognition of his dedication, Jesse received the George Northrup Award in 2004. Jesse married the love of his life, Mary (LeMoine) on April 22, 1983, and together they made a joyful home for their five children. Jesse's happiness and pride grew as his children did, and he reveled in the eight beautiful grandchildren they gave him. Jesse's interests were broad and he shared his enthusiasm for music, history and sports with a vast network of friends. Whether traveling with his pals to a ballgame, playing golf or softball, gathering with friends for cards, or watching a local band, Jesse was always a boundless source of energy and joy. He was preceded in death by his mother, Alice (Watson) Sprague. In addition to his wife, he is survived by five children, Jason (Jenny) Sprague of Sun Prairie, Sarah (Andy) Napgezek of Wausau, Christine Sprague of Milwaukee, Melissa (Travis) Schlegel of Neenah, and Mac (Katie) Vesperman of Deerfield. He is further survived by eight grandchildren, Fischer, Jack, Macie, Anabelle, Gabriel, Ethan, Mac, and his newest grandchild and namesake, Jesse, born Sept. 24, 2006. He is also survived by his sister, Kathy (Charlie Johnston) Sprague of Hudson; nephew, Peter Johnston of Saint Paul, Minn.; sisters-in-law, Michelle (Brian) Bazala and Melinda (Robert) Funseth, of Verona; brother-in-law, Michael (Amy) LeMoine of Stoughton; and cousins, Bruce (Becky) Mueller of Madison, Nancy (Tom) Gustafson of Eagan, Minn., and Rick (Joanne) Williams of Duxbury, Mass.; and first wife, Susan (Voss) Sprague of Sun Prairie. All who knew Jesse will sorely miss him. His family wishes to thank HospiceCare for its invaluable support, and acknowledge the world-class care Jesse received from the doctors, nurses and staff at St. Mary's Hospital, especially Dr. Todd T. Trier. The funeral will be held at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 6, 2006, at ST. JAMES LUTHERAN CHURCH, 427 South Main, Verona, with visitation commencing at 1 p.m. The family asks that memorials be made to Headrush, a Wisconsin event to benefit brain tumor research and education (, or to Rubin for Kids ( Cress Funeral and Cremation Service 3610 Speedway Road (608) 238-3434

Originally published in the Wisconsin State Journal on October 4, 2006


D Strand said...

Jesse was a good friend and a great man. We played on several baseball teams together at Central and in the summer city baseball leagues. We always had a lot of fun. Jesse was a very good player too, both as an outfielder and hitter. Jesse was also a very good football player for Central too. I hadn't seen Jesse in several years but still feel the loss. REST IN PEACE MY FRIEND !!!

Anonymous said...

Our Friend and Colleague Jesse Sprague

Well many of us are in pain because of the passing of our friend and colleague Jesse Sprague. I have been asked to share some information about Jesse’s career with one of his good friends who will be speaking at his funeral tomorrow. I realized in this process that it is important to share with you also because a great person has left us who we have all learned from and are better for knowing.

Jesse was a born social worker, although not trained academically as one, which can have its distinct advantages. He was ever the optimist with a magnetic smile and a warm, engaging, non-judgmental demeanor. He was balanced in his dealings with families and colleagues, and willing to do anything to assist children and families to help them have a better life. He pursued the calling of social work for 30 years working for Dane County at the jail, in delinquency and child protective services, and, toward the end of his career, as a community social worker. I his last position Jesse could have been aptly called “The Natural.” Jesse used to joke with a twinkle in his eye that he had been so good at his job he had been promoted all the way to senior social worker during his many years on the county dime. We all knew that he could have advanced to a higher rank as a supervisor and a manager, but in a certain way I think there was something about Jesse that made him stay on the front lines of social work to help that young kid, that single parent mother, or the little guy - all in need, a world of pain, and looking for someone to give them advice and, more importantly, hope.

One letter of commendation, written about Jesse by a client family in 1984 reads as follows:

“Mr. Sprague, is not only a very competent professional but also a caring human being. He has provided us with clear and necessary information, has been available to respond to our questions and concerns. He has discussed procedures and alternatives with us, honestly, and has treated us as intelligent and competent adults. (Some people tend to view parents, potential clients as “children of the system”) Mr. Sprague has shown us that there are caring, capable people in the County system.

We are not done “dealing” with the process. There are more hearings to attend and (my son) may be placed at a childcare institution. So we will continue to work with Mr. Sprague. I hope that people like him have the full support of your agency. I hope they are given the support of your agency. I hope they are given incentives to continue to provide quality services. I hope that people like him are recognized and rewarded for their competency, professionalism and sensitivity.”

During his career Jesse assisted thousands of people in this caring, competent way. I had the pleasure of supervising Jesse for 10 years when he was a community social worker on Badger Road in the Joining Forces for Families (JFF) program. Jesse had a routine of meeting with his good buddies at the South Madison office before going to his office on Badger Road. He would then ring me up. I cherished his early morning calls to talk fantasy baseball and about what was happening in the Hood. Jesse took the job facilitating a JFF team on Badger Road that was in serious disarray. With his experience and charismatic personality he was able to immediately right the ship. Over time, because of his ability to establish relationships and help families in need, Jesse became a pillar in the neighborhood - a dynamite social worker that I came to view as the “Mayor of Badger Road.”

Besides facilitating an extensive team of professionals to assist families, Jesse helped to develop a broad array of programs for families and kids including a program for youth at Lincoln Elementary that ensured they had a place to learn, play and share a meal during the summer. Jesse obtained funding for the program, arranged for the providers, and made sure everything went according to plan. He also worked to organize several Back-to-School events where youth would get their bicycles repaired, obtain school supplies and offered assistance with immunizations and other matters. I remember fondly our discussions when he was in intense negotiations with Jocko the Clown (with his inflatable, bounce-around child play house) to participate in one of these events. Jesse’s constant refrain was, “This fellow Jocko the clown is really driving a hard deal, but I will get a bargain out of him yet.” Jesse got his bargain by charming the clown suit onto Jocko at a good price for the County and the kids were able to bounce happily away as a result. Without Jesse these events would not have happened.

Jesse was unique as a social worker. I am sure he was the only social worker in the State of Wisconsin and probably the United States that had an Elvis Shrine in the corner of his office, which he proudly pointed out to everyone, who entered. One of his favorite possessions was a note slipped under his door by a client. It read, “Hey Mr. social worker we need to talk. I got problems.” For those of you that knew him, Jesse did not like to hang on the phone (OK, gotta go!) and sit in meetings (he would invariably start to twitch and rustle about 15 minutes into the meeting). I use to receive Jesse’s mileage sheet on the first workday of each month because this was his gambling money and he had bets to place!

Jesse loved the families and the colleagues he worked with. On several occasions, I have had families ask if I knew a social worker with a big smile that helped them previously. Invariably, I would mention the name Jesse and they would brighten up and say “Yeah that is him! He really helped my family and me. Tell him I said hello.” Also, on many occasions, Jesse helped his fellow workers deal with tragedy and various life struggles with wise counsel and advice. He helped me greatly with issues related to my father (both of us lost contact with our fathers early in life) and my daughter (“Keep her close to you now”). You know he cared and would do anything to help you. He was a big guy with a big heart.

In his honor and recognizing his outstanding career in social work, his fellow Joining Forces for Families colleagues, have established the “Jesse Sprague Social Worker of the Year Award” that they will award annually to the Outstanding Social Worker in Dane County at their Friends of JFF event beginning next year.

Jesse was also a good friend with many interests. Jesse got me hooked on fantasy baseball and we started the Sally Fantasy Baseball League together, which resulted in solid bonds forming between former and new friends. He managed a juggernaut called the Hucklebucks and was always trying to take someone in a trade. I remember pilfering him out of Johan Santana early in a season where Johan would become the Cy Young winner. I could always make him wince when I yelled out “Johan Santana!” Jesse also introduced us to a great bar called Long Wong’s Chinese American Sports Bar that was his watering hole before and after Brewer’s games. He also joined some of us on a trip to St. Louis to see the Cardinals and visit Sally League members “Dirty Kurt” and “Crazy Gary” who he enjoyed immensely. Jesse, always the man on the go, drove us back to Madison in record time.

On the basketball court Jesse was a fierce competitor educated in old school tactics. One night we were playing at Lincoln Elementary School with Stephen Blue’s Legends. Along with Stephen and Jesse, Robert Laseter, Bobbie Moore, and I were on the floor. Bobbie was playing gutter defense using elbows and grabbing shirts while playing in his dress shirt\pants and wing tips shoes. I had Jesse man to man down in the paint. Well when Jesse put his body on you, you knew it and were rendered immobile. So all that I could do is face up and try to beat him on the drive, but Jesse remedied that. Any time I would try to blow by him, he would stick out his arm in clothesline-like fashion to keep me at bay. I could then only take outside jump shots that would clank off of the rim. Jesse took no prisoners on the field of play, but he did mellow out a bit on the tennis courts in the CYF tennis league playing with his amiable partner Aimee DeHaven.

Jesse also loved music introducing Dave Marshall and I to the Jayhawks, Great Big Sea and his favorite musician, Robert Earl Keen. We exchanged many CDs. Jessie always had a poster of someone who was playing in town in his office that he was looking forward to and would always be inviting us along to join him.

Finally, it was apparent that Jesse was a proud father and husband. Their pictures adorned his office and he always had something to say about what they were doing or a planned family event. He was really excited by and loved to be with his grand children.

We all love Jesse Sprague. Jesse will always be with us through the good memories and the love that we have for him in our hearts. My fondest memory of Jesse will always be of him smiling and sitting in his JFF office - the Mayor of Badger Road - a beacon of light and a helping hand to children and families in need. Bravo Jesse Sprague, my good friend and brother in arms, Bravo!

Ron Chance
October 5, 2006