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Army Corps employee born on 4th of July turns 80 on Independence Day

Published July 4, 2018

Original story from the Herald Dispatch

It seems only fitting that a man with more than 50 years of federal civilian service to his country would be born on the Fourth of July.

"Sharing a July Fourth birthday with the United States has always been a good day for me," said Michael Spoor, a physical scientist and engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Huntington District.

Spoor turns 80 this Independence Day. He is the eldest of three children and was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, to Ferris and Leona Spoor.

Spoor's father was an intelligence officer in the Army and a survivor of the Bataan Death March during World War II, and his mother was a registered nurse.

"My parents instilled in me a desire to serve people, and most importantly, serve my country," he said.

Spoor has worked for the Corps of Engineers for 51 years. Prior to that he worked four years of federal service for the U.S. Postal Service while in school.

From flood control, navigation, multipurpose hydropower, irrigation and low-flow augmentation projects to flood control and lock and dams foundation designs, the number of projects Spoor has worked on over five decades is in the thousands, if not tens of thousands.

"Through 55 years of service to our nation, Mike Spoor has made an indelible mark on the fabric of this region and its people," said Lt. Col. William Miller, commander of the Huntington District. "He has provided expertise to countless projects that have saved countless lives and property. He has also mentored generations of engineers serving our country. He truly is the personification of selfless service."

"Mike Spoor's outstanding record of professional and technical accomplishments is exceeded only by his passion for public service," said August Martin, chief of the Engineering and Construction Division at the Huntington District.

Spoor has always devoted much of his free time to furthering other agencies' goals as well, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service being one of the largest beneficiaries. He used his time, and often his own funds, to work on years' worth of fish and wildlife projects, resulting in his receipt of the Regional Silver Eagle Award, the highest honor that can be given to a non-Fish and Wildlife employee not involved in a life-saving action.

"Mike Spoor is without a doubt the most selfless, generous and intellectual person I have had the pleasure of working with in my career," said Sean Carter, chief of Geotechnical and Water Resources Engineering Branch. "He's traveled thousands of miles and spent countless hours to help out folks in need regardless of whether he knows them or not. I believe his desire is to assist as many people as he can in his career. He's been a great teacher and role model for me since I met him 24 years ago, and I wish him a happy 80th birthday."

Spoor attended the University of Missouri for a bachelor's degree in geology, which he earned in 1959. He got a master's degree in mining engineering in 1961, and followed that up in 1969 with specialized explosives engineering training at the University of Missouri-Rolla, which was the technology flagship of the four-campus University of Missouri.

In 1972 he earned his second master's, this time in environmental engineering at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

"My involvement with the Corps began in the Kansas City District," Spoor said. "But my first work in West Virginia was in 1961 on the gates at Flannigan Dam."

Spoor had a position with the engineering firm of Tippetts, Abbett, McCarth, Stratton (TAMS) in New York and worked with the Huntington District of the Corps until 1966.

In 1964, Spoor met his wife, Karen. When TAMS' work in West Virginia was coming to an end, the couple did not want to leave the state.

"I applied at several companies, including the Corps of Engineers," he said.

Spoor was offered several jobs, but took the one with the Corps' Huntington District starting on April 1, 1967. One of his first projects was working on the foundation design for Beech Fork Lake.

"The weekend before I was to start, I took my wife and 3-year-old son to the project and began reviewing the site to determine a design path forward," he recalled.

Today, one of his sons is a civil engineering technician at the Corps' Huntington District.

"My father is so passionate about serving the public that it is easy to forgive him being away working most of our lives," said Stephen Spoor. "It's what he loves to do."

Michael Spoor has spent as much of his time as possible passing on his knowledge and commitment through teaching, mentoring and encouraging others to be the best they can be.

"I have been through at least two, and sometimes three, generations of staff," he said. "Some of them came here from Marshall University, West Virginia University, Ohio University and now some of their sons, daughters and even grandchildren are now working here."

Spoor has received many prestigious awards, including the De Fleury medal, the Superior Service Award and countless commanders' awards, but says he prefers to recognize the actions and milestones of others.

"My rewards come from this job," he said. "I enjoy working on the projects I am involved with, especially the local flood protection projects because they are so important and critical to the community. The work done by the Corps really impacts the people and the communities they live in, and that's something we all can be proud of here."

Spoor said the capacity of the agency to be relevant, responsive, cost effective and timely and then build reliable projects that are vital to so many communities is what makes it so unique.

"This district is so integrated with the community that we are one, which is so hard to achieve," he said.

When asked about his future, Spoor says he has no intention of retiring.

"I get paid to do my hobby and what I love to do," he said. "I don't know what I would retire from or to, for that matter, but I think the next 50 years might be a bit harder."