Louise Spencer of St. Anthony Village, for example, has long had her sights on driving an 18-wheeler, an aim so seemingly outlandish that she thought it unachievable. Yet it always remained in the back of her mind.
In what “seemed like a dream,” at the age of 91, days shy of her 92nd birthday, Spencer found herself climbing aboard a big rig and getting behind the steering wheel, towering above 18 wheels and handfuls of spectators.
In one fell swoop on Friday, Sept. 2., Spencer put the automatic transmission in drive and checked controlling a whale-sized vehicle off her bucket list.
Where the dream came from
Spencer has lived in the Twin Cities for 16 years, but her dream of driving a semi-truck goes back further than that. A native of Mississippi, Spencer’s late husband Leo White was a truck driver for 30 years in the South, driving across the country this way and that.
“I always watched him, and I had such a fascination with the trucks he drove,” Spencer says, noting that in the beginning, he had owned his own trucks, but it became expensive so he began to work for trucking companies instead. Eventually, he started hauling aluminum coast to coast.
Once behind the wheel
“I always thought the trucks were beautiful,” she says. “And I still do.”
When she was 22, Spencer did slip behind the wheel of a pulp truck, but accidentally struck a pile of dirt, which caused it to spin around.
“The day I drove it — and I never drove it again — I had my sister and children with me; isn’t that crazy? And I’m a levelheaded person,” she says. Her children were fine, but her sister did get hurt, she admits.
“She picked on me for that all the time,” Spencer chuckles.
Spencer also traveled with her husband a few times.
The couple had two poodles, Andre and Michelle, and they tagged along as well.
“I always thought, ‘what if Leo were to get sick, and I had to drive this thing,’” Spencer says. “That never happened — the highway patrol would stop me quick,” she says, laughing. “No, the biggest problem we had was sneaking the poodles into the hotels with us.”
After White passed away, Spencer eventually moved north to Minnesota to live with her daughter in Fridley in 2001.
“She was asking me to move up here for a while,” Spencer says. “At first I didn’t want to because of the cold, but finally I did. And it’s nice; it works fine because I don’t have to go outside too often in the winter if I don’t want to.”
She says her daughter built an apartment in her basement, the front door of which faced the Mississippi River.
“That was a nice view. We even built a sun room and I was settled for life, or so I thought.
“Then Mr. Wonderful came along,” she says with a smile.
Falling in love again
“When I was just a girl I remember wanting to be a Baptist preacher’s wife one day,” Spencer says. “I turned 80 before it happened.”
She met Bob Spencer, a retired preacher, in 2004 and married him in 2006.
“You know I hadn’t dated in 50 years. I was scared to death. The first time he invited me to go to dinner with him, I think I suffered death that week. At dinner, I probably used the wrong end of the fork or something.”
The couple moved in to Chandler Place, an assisted living community in St. Anthony.
Bob passed away last February.
JUMP! comes to town
Spencer’s dream of driving a big rig was made possible with the help of JUMP!, an organization based in Palm Springs, California, that helps seniors check off items from their bucket lists.
Webb Weiman, founder of JUMP!, visited Chandler Place and talked to residents about their dreams.
Spencer says she was sitting in the back, “sort of minding my own business,” not thinking too seriously about achieving goals.
“But then Webb came over to me,” she recalls, “and asked if I had a dream of doing something.”
She opened up and then Weiman began his research, contacting Minnesota State College Southeast in Winona. He set up the event at the Truck Driving Range in Winona.
According to Weiman, the driving school was adamant that Spencer should achieve her dream.
“I can’t believe I actually went all the way down there and did that,” Spencer says after the fact. “It was so wonderful.”