Dr. William Gilbert Spencer, ED.D.
William Gilbert Spencer (June 22, 1921- August 30, 2010) was born and reared in La Grande, Ore. He attended Eastern Oregon State College in La Grande, the University of Oregon, in Eugene and graduated from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, in 1943 with a bachelor of music degree. Spencer then enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served in the Fourth Fighter Group as a P-51 pilot during World War II, flying twenty-two combat missions out of Debden, England. After the war, he taught in the Nooksack, Wash., school system and at Disston Junior High School in St. Petersburg, Florida. He later earned M.A. and D.Ed. degrees from Teachers College at Columbia University, New York, NY.
Spencer married Sarah Lynn Rives Blair of Sanford, NC. He had one child, Patty (1947-), from a former marriage to Ina Fallier of Tallahassee, Florida, and Sarah had three children from a previous marriage: Palmer Blair, Jr. (1949-), Sharon Blair (1954-), and Susan Blair (1956-). Dr. and Mrs. Spencer have had two children, Anna Margaret (1963-) and William, Jr. (1964). Patty married John Cooke, and their children are Natalie (1972-), and Spence (1975-). Palmer is married to Linda Fields, and the couple has two sons: Palmer, III (1979-) and Samuel (1984-). Sharon married Bryron Tolbert, and the Tolberts have one daughter, Hannah (1989-). Susan is married to Jim Lawrence and Anna married Jim Taylor. Jim has two children from a former marriage: Janet (1980-), and Emilie (1977-).
Dr. William Spencer began his career with Appalachian State University in 1951, directing the band and teaching courses in woodwinds, instrument repair, and music education. He also was in charge of the stage band during this time and chaired the Department of Music from 1958 to 1972. During this time, the number of faculty increased from nine to twenty-five, and the department added several new degree programs, including performance, church music, and B.A. degrees. He also was one of the founders of Cannon Music Camp, which is held on Appalachian State’s campus each summer.
In 1972, Spencer resigned as chair of the Department of Music and, in 1973, he resigned as TTT professor. Within this period, he initiated the guitar program at Appalachian State in conjunction with the Ford Foundation and continued to teach bassoon, woodwind class, theory, conducting, the history and construction of the piano, and guitar classes. Spencer also served as coordinator of audiovisual equipment for the department and as building manager of the Broyhill Music Center. In 1978, he developed and directed the first Appalachian Dulcimer Workshop and Old Tyme Music Concert on the campus; the workshop has continued on an annual basis and has attracted students from all over the country. The new School of Music at Appalachian State has shown its appreciation of Spencer by dedicating a rehearsal room in his honor. Chancellor John Thomas led the dedication ceremony during the 1989 homecoming weekend, officially opening the door to the William G. Spencer Instrumental Rehearsal Hall. In response, Spencer said, “I was pleased that it [the dedication] was done. Of all the various areas in the building, the rehearsal halls are where a lot of the work goes on. I enjoy working hard and the real work behind a performance is done there. I’m pleased to be a part of it.”
During his tenure at Appalachian State, Spencer served on the Faculty Senate, the Appalachian Studies Council, the Appalachian Consortium Task Force, and numerous other committees; he also served as chair of the new music building committee as Appalachian planned for the move into the Broyhill Music Center. Along with his academic responsibilities, he continued to play the bassoon professionally in a number of community and professional orchestras, including the North Carolina Symphony.
Spencer is a member of the following organizations: Pi Kappa Lambda, the Music Educators National Conference, the International Double Reed Society, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. He also has served as a music consultant, clinician, and contest judge in most of the Southern states. He is a past president of the North Carolina Music Educators Association, as well as a past chair of the higher education section and a member-at-large.
Phi Mu Alpha students honored Spencer by awarding him the Orpheus Award. He was also honored with receptions and awards by the Music Educators National Conference and by Sigma Alpha Iota. Former Department of Music, chair Bill McCloud said of Spencer: “Appalachian is lucky to have had in its midst a man who has surfaced as a strong and effective leader, a highly respected contributor to the profession, a diligent overseer, a stern and fair counselor, a tireless taskmaster, and of most importance, one who is a genuine friend.”
Spencer was recently elected the tenth president of the Association of the Fourth Fighter Group of World War II. It is the oldest of all fighter groups in World War II, having initially been a volunteer squadron made up of United States pilots volunteering with the British Air Force, and eventually incorporated into the United States forces and dubbed the “Fighting Fourth.”
Spencer was also very active in the Boone community. He is a former choir director in the Presbyterian Church, as well as a former elder and past chair of the Board of Deacons. Spencer is also a past member of the Lions Club and a past president of the Civitans. He and his wife were longtime members of the Fifty-Nighters, a group of which Spencer is a past president. Presently, Spencer is a choir member in the Presbyterian Church and a charter member and secretary of the barbershop chorus in Boone.
Dr. Spencer retired from teaching on July 1, 1986, but continued working part-time as building coordinator and audio-visual equipment manager until 1989. The Spencers still live in Boone year-round. Dr. Spencer’s retirement activities included woodworking, traveling, volunteering, fishing, and making music when “the spirit moves.”
Sources: Watauga Democrat, Appalachian State University files, personal correspondence, and long association.
-Dr. Richard D. Howe