Louise Spencer Making Moments Matter

At 92 years old, Louise Spencer dares to dream. Earlier this summer at Chandler Place in St. Anthony, Minnesota, we learned about her surprising lifelong aspiration to drive a big-rig semi. The love of her life of 30 years drove a semi for 30 years, but she never got behind the wheel herself. Watch as Louise towers above 18 wheels and handfuls of spectators!


Louise Spencer: Just Keep Truckin!

Webb Weiman, Jump!

September 25, 2016

Louise Spencer of Minnesota always had a dream of getting behind the wheel of a big-rig and feeling the cool wind in her hair.

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Maybe that’s because of her love for trucks and the fact that her late husband drove an 18-wheeler for nearly 30 years. Jump! has had skydivers and race car drivers and even parasailers, but never anyone who wanted to do this! If there’s one thing we like to do at Jump! is show seniors how many options they have, and who better to show them this 92-year-old spark plug named Louise!


91-year-old great-grandma drives an 18-wheeler

Boyd Huppert, Kare 11

September 20th, 2016

WINONA, Minn. – It took her nearly 92 years, but Louise Spencer can check the last item off her bucket list.

Watch Video Here.

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The Twin Cities great-grandmother has taken a spin in the driver’s seat of an 18-wheeler.

“I can’t think of anything else that I would want to do that I haven’t done,” said Louise, before climbing up in the cab of the tractor-trailer, a week shy of her 92nd birthday.

As she watched from a few feet away, Wanda McCarra took note of her mother’s pants.  “I couldn’t talk her out of wearing the tight jeans,” Wanda laughed.  “I told her she didn’t need to wear those, she’d never get in that truck.”

Tight pants and all, Louise climbed the steps and slid behind the wheel of the massive Volvo truck.

Tom Gierock, a truck driving teacher at Minnesota State College Southeast in Winona, provided Louise with her instruction.

But Louis credits her late husband Leo for the inspiration. Leo was a truck driver and Louise had long thought about giving it a try herself.

“Tons of steel and rubber rolling down the highway is beautiful,” she said wistfully. “All of them aren’t pretty, but most of them are to me.”

Louise’s driving lesson was jointly organized by her senior community, Chandler Place in St. Anthony, and Jump!, a non-profit organization that grants wishes to seniors.

“When I look at her, I can’t help but smile,” said JUMP! founder Webb Weiman, who documented the drive with a video crew.

“That’s a big truck, it’s huge, and she just drove it off, just like no big deal,” said daughter Cheryl Fairchild, who flew in from Atlanta to witness her mother’s wish granted.  “My mother’s driving an 18-wheeler.  Would you not go see your mother do that?” she laughed.

Neither of Louise’s daughters doubted that their mother was up to the challenge.  She was, after all, the same woman who raised four children on her own after her first husband abandoned the family.

“She worked all day – she was a dental assistant – and then she’d come home at night to sew clothes for people to make extra money,” said Cheryl, noting also, that her mother survived breast cancer and a mastectomy earlier this year.

Louise’s drive was confined to the college’s closed course.  Still, Gierock needed to gently remind her to slow down on the corners.

“I forgot to tell you all I have a heavy foot,” Louise responded playfully.

A short time later she stepped down from the cab to a round applause and a certificate from the school declaring her an honorary truck driver.

As for the 35,000 pound truck, “I’d like to take it home with me,” Louise smiled.


At 91, St. Anthony woman fulfills dream, drives 18-wheeler

Jesse Poole, Lillie News

September 14, 2016

For many, four wheels are enough, but some folks have bigger dreams when it comes to hitting the pavement.

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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.

Tagging along

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.”

Moving north

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.”


91-Year-Old Woman Keeps on Trucking

Madalyn O'Neil, News 8000 La Crosse

September 2, 2016

LA CROSSE, Wis. — Louise Spencer is about to turn 92, but that didn’t stop her from getting behind an 18-wheel tractor-trailer truck for the first time Friday at a driving range on Minnesota State College Southeast’s campus.

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With the help of nonprofit organization JUMP!, which helps seniors realize their dreams, she went from an assisted living facility to a driving range.

Spencer may be 91, but she’s got a long road ahead of her.

“It’s just always been something in me that wanted to do it,” she said.

And she has 18 wheels to help her on her way.

“I think trucks, now no one’s going to agree with me I don’t imagine, but I think they’re beautiful,” she said.

Spencer’s not the usual suspect you’d see behind the wheel of a big rig, but when director of the nonprofit organization JUMP! asked seniors at her assisted living facility about their bucket lists.

“Louise spoke up and said I’d like to drive a truck and right when it came out of her mouth my jaw dropped,” said Webb Weiman, the executive director of JUMP! “I thought, we’ve done skydiving, race car driving, parasailing. We’ve never had anyone go truck driving.”

“My husband drove a truck when I was a young mother, and I wanted to drive at that time,” Spencer said. “Of course I couldn’t. It wasn’t legal for me to drive that truck, and I wasn’t trained.”

Back in her day not many women drove trucks like that, but times are shifting, and now, so is she.

According to Spencer’s driving instructor, she’s a perfect student.

“She’s just a spark plug, she’s wound up on it. It’s great,” said instructor Tom Gierock.

“I just feel whatever I want to do I can do it if it’s humanly possible,” Spencer said. “I think I can unless these tight jeans are going to keep me from it, I think I can stretch my legs and get up there.”

Spencer was excited to get up in the cab, but never nervous.

“When you get this old, you do what you have to do,” she said.

Even just cheering her on from sidelines, it’s clear that she and her can-do spirit will keep on trucking.

“What would we do without trucks?” Louise said. “They keep us moving.”


Bucket List: Woman, 91, Drives a Semi in Winona

Megan Stewart, KAAL TV Rochester

September 6, 2016

(ABC 6 News) — A 91-year-old woman was granted her bucket-list wish of driving a semi Friday in Winona. Louise Spencer made the trek with her daughters from the Twin Cities to Minnesota State College Southeast, where she did a few laps on the driving course.

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“I just had the desire to drive the truck,” Spencer said.

Her husband had been a truck driver. She has many memories of the pair traveling together.

“The puppies and I would go with him and we enjoyed it but the truck was so noisy,” Spender said. “We couldn’t hear each other talk. I would have to get in the sleeper to hear what he said.”

On Friday, Louise wasn’t the passenger. It was time for Louise to get behind the wheel.

Tom Gierok, an instructor at the school, sat alongside Louise, coaching her as she operated the semi.

“It’s going to be a little different, but with today’s equipment, automatic transmissions and stuff, it takes the big scare out of it,” Gierok said. “Incredible, incredible. She’s a testament to anyone who has a wish or a dream.”

Webb Weiman, the founder of Jump!, organized the event. His non-profit grants wishes for seniors.

“She said, ‘I’ve always, always wanted to go truck driving,’ and my jaw, my mouth, fell open,” Weiman said. “Today is like the perfect example of a woman who doesn’t let age get in the way of her dreams.”

As for Louise, her 92nd birthday won’t be slowing her down.


Woman Drives Big Rig at 91

Chris Rogers, Winona Post

September 6, 2016

Louise Spencer’s voice is soft and kind, and her words come out with a slight Southern drawl. But the truck she stepped into last Friday growled deeply when she turned the ignition, and it let out a fierce hiss as its air brakes disengaged.

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It is just a week and a half from Spencer’s 92nd birthday and she is driving an 18-wheel semi-truck for the first time. She is not nervous.

A nonprofit aimed at helping seniors cross items from their bucket list hooked Spencer, a Twin Cities resident, up with the truck driving program at Minnesota State College Southeast (MSC Southeast) — formerly Southeast Tech — in Winona. Spencer rolled up in a her candy red Nitro brand walker, and, with minimal help, clambered up into the cab of the big rig. In a calm, steady voice, truck driving instructor Tom Gierok showed her all the switches and valves for the trailer’s brakes. Most of Gierok’s students are age 18 to 65. He once taught a husband-wife duo in their early 70s. Spencer takes the cake as his oldest student ever, but do not underestimate her.

“She’s pretty gutsy,” said Wanda McCarra, one of Spencer’s daughters. “Everybody sees her as this sweet old lady, but she’s a firecracker. She’s got a very gentle appearance, but she’s pretty determined.”

Back in her home state of Mississippi, Spencer taught herself to paint at age 50 and started a craft store. Until just recently, she still gardened, cooked, entertained, and hosted church groups. “There’s really not anything she chooses to do that she doesn’t do,” McCarra added.

Spencer had a few jerky starts, but she caught on quickly. Out at MSC Southeast’s driving course, she fired up the truck, pulled away, and sped around a corner. “I’m surprised she didn’t burn rubber,” joked Webb Weisman, the California television professional whose nonprofit, Jump!, helped organize the event. Jokes aside, Spencer did well, and stopped smoothly at the end of her run. “It was really nice,” she said. “My problem was getting familiar with the gas pedal.” It was harder than driving a car, but pretty fun, she added. When MSC Southeast President Dorothy gave her an honorary truck driving certificate, Spencer said, “I can’t believe this. Does this mean I have a job?”

Spencer’s late husband drove lumber trucks for years. She rode along with him a few times, and — though she hoped nothing bad would ever happen — sometimes fantasized about how, if something happened, she might have to take over and drive the big truck, her daughters said. Perhaps that is how driving an 18-wheeler wound up on Spencer’s bucket list.

Spencer never confided her long-held wish to her two daughters, but when Weisman visited her St. Anthony, Minn., senior living community and asked everyone to name the things they want to do before they die, driving truck was Spencer’s answer.

“I don’t know why these dreams come, but my husband was a truck driver and I always wanted to drive truck,” she said.

“My jaw just dropped. She’s kind of honoring [her late husband’s] memory. She’s fulfilling something she always wanted to do,” Weisman said. He latched onto the idea and decided Jump! needed to fulfill Spencer’s wish.

Weisman started calling around to find places in Minnesota where Spencer could drive a truck. When he spoke with Gierok, Weisman knew MSC Southeast was the place to go. “You could not meet a nicer guy than this guy. From the moment we got on the phone, I thought I need him to be part of this story.”

“I didn’t even hesitate,” Gierok said. He told Weisman, “Absolutely. Let’s do this.”

On the big day, Gierok had a special surprise for Louise. Just below the driver’s door window, he attached a pink decal with Louise’s name spelled out in a stylish script. She was wowed.

“Wow, if at almost 92 you are stepping forward and checking something off your bucket list, what about me?” reflected Katie Westby, a representative of the senior living community where Spencer lives.

Gierok went out of his way to make Spencer’s dream come true. “None of this would happen without his enthusiasm,” Weisman said. Gierok helped line up hotel rooms and gift baskets for her. He secured a truck with an automatic transmission from Riverland Trucking, and Spencer seemed to think he was a good teacher, too. “He’s such a nice fella,” Spencer stated.

“Anytime you can be part of somebody’s wish — who could ask for more?’ Gierok said.


Nearly 92, Woman Fulfills Dream to Drive Big Rig

Scott Jacobson, Rochester Post Bulletin

September 6, 2016

WINONA — The rumble of the diesel dynamo, the scream and hiss of the air brakes, and 18 wheels rolling along the pavement: “It was exciting!” exclaimed Louise Spencer, 91, who lives in St. Anthony. “Woo! It almost took my breath away.”

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Spencer, a Mississippi native who has lived in the Twin Cities area for 16 years, was able to check one of her life goals off her list Friday — nine days before she turns 92 — when she got behind the wheel of a big rig for the first time in her life. With the help of Jump!, a Palm Springs, Calif., organization that helps seniors achieve items on their bucket lists, and Minnesota State College Southeast in Winona.

Spencer’s husband, Leo, drove trucks for 30 years before he passed away, and she has always been enamored with the big rigs. “I think these big trucks on the road are beautiful,” she said. “Think about it. What would we do without them? They are so important.”

When Webb Weiman heard Spencer talk about her driving desire, he decided to make it happen. Weiman, the founder of Jump!, was visiting Chandler Place, the assisted living community Spencer calls home, when he asked seniors to share one item from their lists in exchange for a lottery ticket.

“We’ve had people who want to drive race cars, skydivers and parasailors,” Weiman said. “She’s the first one who wanted to drive a semi.”

Not sure where to start, Weiman started calling schools with truck driving programs. The first one he called was MSCS, where he got a hold of truck driving instructor Tom Gierock.

“Without reservation, my words were, ‘Let’s do it,'” Gierock said.

In his 23 years as an instructor, Spencer was not his first retiree to train on big rig driving. Several years back, he trained a couple, both 75, how to drive. “It was something they talked about,” he said. “They wanted to experience the life.”

Gierock said Spencer did just fine behind the wheel. Over the years, there have been several students who did not fare as well. “Yeah, I’ve had some that couldn’t make it out of the parking lot,” he said.

In the parking lot at the driving school, Spencer was helped into the driver’s seat of the tall Volvo rig — she normally walks with a walker — and Gierock slid into the passenger seat beside her. The pair went over the controls in the cab as Spencer was shown the brakes, shifter and other necessities of driving.

The transmission was an automatic, so Spencer would not need to learn the complicated shifting that her husband had needed to learn to make his old rig run back in the day. “It was easier than I thought, what with the modern technology,” she said. “It wasn’t as hard as the ones I was familiar with.”

Once Spencer had taken her laps around the school’s driving course and rolled back to the parking lot, she honked the horn for the waiting crowd and, with a little help, dismounted from her ride.

Weiman, who had spent weeks setting up this ride of a lifetime, was nearly as thrilled as the lady of the hour. “She did great,” he said. “Great.” Best of all, with this item checked off her list, Spencer was none the worse for wear. “The only thing that matters for me is she gets in and out of that truck safely.”

Of course, making sure Spencer had the time of her life didn’t hurt.

“I am so grateful to them for letting me do this,” Spencer said. “I’m afraid I’ll wake up tomorrow and it’ll all be a dream.”


91 Years, 18 Wheels: Woman Checks 'Drive Semi' Off Bucket List in Winona on Friday

Kyle Farris, Winona Daily News (also the La Crosse Tribune)

September 3, 2016

A fluff of brown-gray hair appeared over the steering wheel.

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Louise Spencer bounced a little in the driver’s seat, craning her neck so she could see the road through her thick-frame glasses. Louise gripped the wheel. She turned the key.

The engine of the 18-wheeler began to growl, and the truck itself began to hiss.

Then Louise, 91, turned to her fans, gave them a wave and drove off in the mass of glistening steel, applying liberal and unsteady force to the gas pedal.

“There is something in me,” she had said, “that makes me want to do this.”

Louise, who lives in Chandler Place assisted-living community in Minneapolis, has wanted to drive an 18-wheeler as long as she can remember. Her late husband drove one for 30 years, and the few times she rode along, Louise had secretly wished some minor problem would arise, a problem that necessitated her getting behind the wheel.

So when representatives for Jump! — a nonprofit based in California that helps seniors fulfill items on their bucket lists — visited her community, Louise had something in mind.

“We’ve had people skydive and people drive racecars,” said Webb Weiman, the group’s founder. “We’ve never had someone drive a truck.”

Louise came to Winona with her two daughters. Friday afternoon, the family was swarmed by reporters, photographers and employees from Minnesota State College Southeast — which has a truck-driving program and happened to have a big rig with Louise’s name on it, in pink cursive on the driver’s side door.

“Oh my goodness,” Louise said, setting her walker aside and shuffling toward the truck.

She was helped inside and shown the basics.

Tom Gierok’s oldest students had been a couple who learned to drive an 18-wheeler in their 70s. Louise turns 92 next week.

Gierok went over the controls, gave her some tips on how to handle a vehicle that weighs 18 tons, stretches 65 feet. Then he buckled up, and told Louise to give it some gas.

Louise steered the truck in a loop around the parking lot. Gierok had her take a campus road to a truck-driving range out back of the school, and there, Louise made big loops and zipped around corners.

After a few laps, she had her first opportunity to honk the horn, scattering a group of photographers who had gathered on the road, trying to get a good shot.

“Mother is a Southern Baptist,” said Wanda McCarra, Louise’s daughter. “She doesn’t drink. She doesn’t dance. I would never have thought of this.”

Louise spent most of her life in Mississippi. She grew up around trucks, drove pickups and larger trucks for hauling pulpwood.

She married Leo White, who drove for an aluminum manufacturing company, about 15 years ago — a late-blooming romance, her daughters say.

So, Louise waited first for a husband, then for a chance to drive her husband’s truck.

“I feel like I’m going to wake up tomorrow, and it’s a dream,” she said. “But there’s no way I could have dreamed this.”

Louise eased out of the truck as everyone cheered. It wasn’t so hard, she said. It’s like driving a car.

Dorothy Duran, the school’s president, presented her with an honorary certificate of completion.

“Great,” Louise said. “Does this mean I have a job?”

The school had a birthday cake for her — chocolate, with a frosted picture of Louise driving a truck. She sat down in a chair in the shade, but did not have much time to pick at her cake. Louise, who had never been interviewed before Friday, was crowded again by a small group of reporters.

“All of this is a little bit overwhelming,” she said. “Not a little bit — a big bit.”

Louise does not know what her friends would have said had they seen her. Her husband would have been surprised too — “but you just don’t know,” she said, “maybe he is watching.”

Louise is an active member of her church, a regular in her community’s exercise room. Where she lives, people do not get out much. A day like hers will have everyone talking.

The family will return Saturday to Minneapolis, and this time, Louise will not be driving.

Her eyes started to get bad a few years ago, so she gave it up.

Just Keep Truckin'

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