Evangel University leaders, alumna remember Dr. Robert Spence

SPRINGFIELD,Mo. (KY3) -- Springfield has made this Sunday an official day of mourning for long time Evangel University president Dr. Robert Spence. That's when Spence will be laid to rest.

Dr. Spence died Wednesday morning, three days after suffering a severe stroke and just a week after he was presented with a key to to the city.

"One week earlier many of us were watching him receive the key to the city," said Evangel President Dr. Carol Talor. "Some of us thought today 'now he's got the keys to a kingdom."

Dr. Robert Spence spent 40 years as president of Evangel University. He retired in 2014. Dr. Spence served on several boards of directors including the Chamber of Commerce, CoxHealth and the airport.

To many, his most important role was as a confidant to whoever needed him.

"He was my number one encourager here [and] mentor," Dr.Taylor said. "At any time I could call."

Dr.Taylor said Dr. Spence was a selfless leader who didn't seek praise for his help.

"He was a man of integrity and character and lovingly serving, not for self promotion," she said. "As evidence, his name wouldn't be on any building while he was president here. So, how fitting as soon as he retired that this is now the Robert H. Spence Chapel."

Evangel alumna Julie Higgins said Dr. Spence invested in his students and the community like they were family.

"He really was like a father to the fatherless," Higgins said. "He took an invested interest for everyone. He's just a wonderful, wonderful person."

Dr. Spence was there on one of the most important days of her life: her wedding.

"I just loved him dearly and my husband had great respect for him, so to us it was like a no-brainer to have the honor of him marrying us."

Higgins said that is a memory she will always cherish.

"After he had that stroke I went back and looked at my wedding album to look at that picture standing with him," she said. "He's been a very pivotal part of many impactful times."

She said Dr. Spence has helped her in many business endeavors over the years. Higgins said Dr. Spence will be remembered by many for his values and faith.

Dr. Spence spoke about those values Feb. 10 when he accepted the key to the city.

"It is my hope and intent when I leave this world to leave Springfield a better place," he said. "Thank you very much."

Dr. Taylor said through all of this, faith has brought her and Dr. Spence's family comfort.

"The verse in Mathews 'Well done good and faithful servant. You've been faithful, now enter into the joy of the lord.' He's been a faithful servant and that's a great comfort," Taylor said.

She said the sadness is for his friends and family down here, but Dr. Taylor believes he is much happier in heaven.

A public memorial service will be held on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020, at Evangel in the Robert H. Spence Chapel. A visitation will be held between 1:30-2:45 p.m., and the service will be at 3 p.m. The memorial service will be shown live on the school's website.