James D. Speer, retired chair of the science department at Lewis & Clark High School and decorated track and field and cross country coach, died on Monday, September 13, 2021 at the age of 88 at his home in South Hill Village in Spokane.
Known to his family and friends as Jim, he has been an outstanding athlete, educator, coach and historian throughout his life.
Mr. Speer arrived at Lewis & Clark High School in 1968, nine years after the start of his teaching career. During his 23 years at LCHS, he served as chair of the science department, taught biology, and coached cross-country and track teams. Mr. Speer’s biology classes were rigorous, and his dedication to excellence in the classroom helped generations of students discover a passion for science, many of whom pursued careers in medical fields.
As a track and field and cross country coach, Mr. Speer has led Tigers Athletics to numerous championship level events. His cross-country teams were eternal contenders, with numerous All-City Championships, performances of State finalists, and individual State Champions throughout his time. He was known for the work ethic he had helped instill in his student athletes.
Jim Speer was born to Jack and Rose Speer on October 16, 1932 in McCook, Neb., The second of four brothers. His family moved to a dairy farm in Henderson, Colorado, where he spent his youth working for his family farm and excelling as a multi-sport athlete. After graduating from Brighton High School in 1950, Speer joined the Naval Reserve and, at the start of the Korean War, was activated and posted as an aircraft mechanic. In 1952, he met his wife, Lois Speer, on a blind date arranged by mutual friends and the two were married in 1954.
While in the US Navy, Speer played on an AAU basketball team with Dick Eicher, a former American basketball player from Eastern Washington State College. At Eicher’s request, Speer was recruited to play basketball at Eastern Washington State College by Hall of Fame coach Red Reese. In his second year on the basketball team, Speer had surgery for appendicitis, shortening his season and prompting him to switch to athletics. As a member of the track team, Speer was a star runner, competing in the 100 yards, 220 yards and the men’s 4X400 relay, and served as a team captain in his senior year. Mr. Speer’s time as a college athlete fueled his love of running, a sport he enjoyed until he was 70.
After college, Mr. Speer began his career in education, holding a teaching position at Ritzville High School where he coached the basketball team at several B State tournaments. During this time, he also received his Master of Science in Marine Biology from Washington State University through the National Defense Education Act, an initiative to propel science and technology education in the States -United during the cold war.
After obtaining his Master of Science, Mr. Speer became interested in pursuing seasonal work with the National Parks Service. In 1966, he applied for seasonal positions in three national parks: Olympic National Park, Glacier National Park and the new Nez Perce National Historic Park in Lapwai. Following offers from the three parks, he chose Nez Perce National Historic Park.
Mr. Speer was the first US government ranger and interpreter for Nez Perce National Historic Park. He and his family have spent summers living and working in the park. From 1966 to 2015, he was an active seasonal ranger, speaking to groups of students, organizing cultural demonstrations, working with tribal members and, in his later years, contributing to an oral history of the National Historic Park of Pierced nose. He was highly respected by the members, elders and leaders of the Nez Perce tribe.
After retiring from Lewis & Clark High School in 1992, Mr. Speer continued to work at Nez Perce National Historic Park, coached teams for his grandchildren, played golf, met regularly for having breakfast with his fellow retired LCHS teachers and spending quality time with family at Cheney and Clarkston.
Jim is survived by his beloved wife of 67 years, Lois Speer; one brother, George Speer; her three children, Susan Lienhard (Tom), Steven (Karen) and Stuart Speer; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
A Celebration of Life will take place at 2 p.m. on October 9 on the outdoor patio of the Nez Perce National Historic Park Visitor Center in Lapwai. Guests are requested to wear masks. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to be made on their behalf to the EWU Athletics Excellence Fund by mail: Attn: Stan Kerr, EWU Track Coach 207 PEB / EWU 520 Fifth St., Cheney, WA 99004-9975.
If your life has been touched by Jim Speer, we encourage you to share your favorite memories or wishes with the family by sending an email to [email protected]