Dec 22nd 1925 - Sep 14th 2011
Norman L Sper, Jr. was born Dec 22, 1925 to vaudeville star Winona Winter and syndicated sports writer Norman L Sper Sr. He was the godson of America’s cowboy, Will Rogers, and grew up in the early years of Hollywood surrounded by the most influential figures of the sports world and the movie industry.
At a young age, Norman displayed an unusual talent at many sports, but he excelled at swimming and diving. By the time he was 11 years old, he was already considered the best prospect for the 1940 Olympics. He was selected for both the 1940 and 1944 U.S. Olympic diving teams, but was deprived of his dream of competing as an Olympian when both Games were canceled due to WW2. Even though he never dove in the Olympics, he was one of the best springboard and platform divers in the world during the 1940s, winning the AAU National Diving Championship five times.
Norman attended prep school and led the swim team at Andover. During the war, he served in the Army and was called on to help the war bond effort by performing diving exhibitions all over the country. In one exhibition held in Beverly Hills where he performed with famous swimmers Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller, they raised a record $26 million toward the effort.
After the war, Norman received an appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis but chose instead to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he led the UNC swimming and diving team, setting NCAA records with his diving and backstroke performances. Norman was a four-time first-team All-American (1947-1950), the first in UNC history.
In addition to his swimming and diving, Norm was repeatedly elected as head cheerleader—a position perfectly suited to his upbeat and always optimistic personality. He is remembered to this day in Chapel Hill as the person who brought stadium card stunts to the east coast, energizing student and alumni school spirit. Norm's longest-lasting contribution at UNC, however, is the Victory Bell—the famous trophy that goes annually to the victor in the UNC-Duke football rivalry. Norm got the bell from an old steam train. His counterpart at Duke mounted it on a cart. The bell is one of the oldest, most famous rivalry-trophies in college football.
UNC’s most important contribution to Norm’s life was introducing him to Joyce Frances Richert. They were married in 1951 and moved to New York City where they both performed in Mike Todd’s Aquashow. They moved to LA in 1952 where Norm partnered with his father to produce one of the earliest syndicated television sports programs “Football This Week.” He also partnered with his wife to produce 3 children: David, Melanie, and Paul.
Norm was a gifted entrepreneur, both creative and successful in practically everything he did. In the early 1960s, he became one of the first highly successful Amway distributors, which enabled him to retire in his forties. Never able to sit still, and always an idea man, he started a business called "On-the-Spot Duplicators." He would record convention speeches, making cassette copies on the spot and selling them to attendees within minutes after the end of each session. Once that business became prosperous, Norm sold it and entered the second phase of his "retirement."
In 1955, after the early and sudden death of his father, and the birth of his firstborn child, Norman and his wife Joyce began a spiritual search for some answers to life. While visiting a Baptist church close to home, they heard a clear presentation of the gospel message--that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for their sins and rose from the grave to offer eternal life to all who would believe. They both stood up in church responding in saving faith and became followers of Christ. True to form, Norm dove in head first and began studying the Scripture with a passion—attending Bible studies and listening to Bible teachers on reel-to-reel tapes and the radio. In time, he began teaching adult Sunday School classes.
In the 1970s, Norm began attending Grace Community Church and became one of the elders. While there, he felt so strongly that his pastor, John MacArthur, needed to be heard on radio, that he volunteered his time, expertise, and enthusiasm to single-handedly pursue that goal. Against numerous odds, he began the “Grace to You” radio ministry that is currently spreading the verse-to-verse teaching of the Bible around the globe—accomplishing his goal to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).
Norm’s behind-the-scenes work in the ministry of “Grace to You” was quite different from the notoriety, medals, and headlines he had achieved earlier in life, but it became his joy and passion—and his most far-reaching and eternal service.
Norm retired again for the last time in 1989. Although he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 1992, he remained highly active playing golf and walking—incessantly. In fact, he became a well-known sight on his daily walks around Camarillo, California, where he lived for 10 years before moving to Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In his final years, Norm was a resident at Rest Haven Homes in Grand Rapids where he brought the joy and the exuberance of living to the loving and patient staff who tried to keep up with him.
He will be greatly missed by his wife Joyce, three children, eight grandchildren, and great granddaughter—and by all those who have known him. One day, our sorrow will be turned to joy when those who know the Lord will be reunited with him. Don’t be surprised if he’s still whistling and even leading heaven’s cheering section praising God.
"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord . . . that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!" (Revelation 14:13).
SPER – Mr. Norman L. Sper, aged 85 of Grand Rapids and formerly of Southern California passed away Wednesday September 14, 2011. He is survived by his wife Joyce Sper, his children: David and Mary “Ginger” Sper, Melanie Winter, Paul and Angela Sper; his grandchildren: Jarred and Sara Sper, Sarah and Andrew McLellan, Stephen Sper, Jonathan Sper, Austin Sper, Karsen Sper, Colton Sper, Peyton Sper; his great granddaughter Avery Sper. A memorial service will be held Monday September 18 at 2 P.M. at Rest Haven Home, 1424 Union N.E.