Wealthy Elizabeth Purrington Spreng died in Rolla, Missouri, on December 27, 2012. Her husband of 63 years, Alfred Carl Spreng, died on October 19, 2012, just 10 weeks before her death. She leaves as survivors her three children (twins, Catherine and Carl, and Lillian), nine grandchildren, and 11 great grandchildren. She is also survived by three younger brothers (Stan, Jim, and Keith); five other siblings preceded her in death, as well as two siblings who died at a young age.
Wealthy was born on December 29, 1923, in Ogden, Utah – the firstborn in her large family. She was named after her mother’s good friend who was pregnant and died in a flash flood shortly before Wealthy was born. In high school, Wealthy signed up, by chance, for a geology class and was immediately hooked.
She particularly loved learning about the geology of Utah. By the time she registered to attend Weber College in Ogden, Wealthy had decided to major in geology and minor in English – instead of majoring in English, as she had always thought she would.
To pay for college, she worked with the National Youth Administration as a file clerk and elevator operator for the U.S. Forest Service after school and on weekends. The first summer the U.S. National Park Service allowed women to work as ranger naturalists, Wealthy worked at Zion National Park in Southern Utah. The following summer, she worked at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, also as a ranger naturalist.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in geology at Brigham Young University in Provo, Wealthy earned her master’s degree in geology at the University of Kansas-Lawrence. This is where she met her future husband, who was also working on a master’s in geology. When Al went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to get his doctorate degree, she also went to Madison, taking classes and working in the museum there. They were married in August of 1949.
In the fall of 1950, Al and Wealthy moved to Rolla, Missouri, where Al began teaching geology at what was then the Missouri School of Mines. Wealthy busied herself with community activities, church work, helping Al with his geology research, and motherhood. She was involved with political campaigns, Coterie (a university-based women's organization), Parent Teacher Association, and the Community Concert Association.
She was also an election judge, played a little bridge, and participated in Church Women United (a Bible study group). Wealthy was actively immersed in her church, serving diligently as, among other roles, the young women’s leader and then as teacher of the daily scripture study class, both for many years.
When her children were older, Wealthy substituted frequently in the Rolla Public Schools. Then, after teaching biology and history courses at Rolla Senior High, she began teaching geology classes at the University of Missouri-Rolla and wrote the textbook for the introductory geology correspondence course for the University of Missouri system. For several years, she graded those exams and kept the course updated.
In her spare time, Wealthy enjoyed sewing, gardening, opera and other classical music, bird watching and listening, CNN and PBS programs, crossword puzzles, and reading (newspapers, magazines, professional journals, and almost any kind of book). Despite her many interests, her love of education (learning and teaching), and some rather groundbreaking experiences, she had said many times that her happiest years were when she was a mother, actively raising her children.
Those children are extremely grateful for the many warm visits from friends their mother received while recently hospitalized, as well as the love shown to her and the rest of the family – especially over the last few months.
A memorial service will be announced soon.