Al Spajer retired in 2013. He had big plans to spend time with his wife, and his grandkids. He wanted to travel. He wanted to read the paper in the morning with nowhere to be. He wanted to do “the things grandparents do.”
A year later, he was no longer retired. “So, I was retired six months or so when I get a call from someone I knew, and they asked me if I planned to go back to work. I’m sitting in my living room, reading the paper and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ He said ‘I’m not joking,’ and I said ‘I’m not either’ and gave him a list of things I planned to do.” Spajer said.
A few phone calls later, the person on the other end said, “There’s going to be a project in Whiting, Indiana, and it’s going to be like a kid’s museum.”
Spajer, remembering the event, said “The soft spot in my heart has always been kids. I can remember putting my hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and I looked at Debbie my wife and mouthed I the words “I’m going back to work” and she’s across the living room and she whispers, ‘doing what?’ I said ‘I don’t know but it has to do with kids and I’m going back to work.’”
A few more phone calls, some planning, and finally a meeting with Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura come along. “I was instantly sold,” Spajer said. He’s now the Executive Director of the Mascot Hall of Fame.
Spajer was born on the Southside of Chicago and has two kids and four grandchildren. He has lived in Northwest, Indiana most of his life, save a few years in Birmingham, but he soon transferred back home to Gary Works where he was head of employee relations. He went to DePaul University where he met his wife, Debbie.
When Spajer isn’t daydreaming about taking his grandkids to the opening day of the Mascot Museum Hall of Fame, he’s playing hockey or helping the community as a board member of the Lake Area United Way, an organization he has been with for many years.
He’s very active in United Way and helps fundraise. He’s been with them for a long time.
“We’re focusing on the families, and children, education, good nutrition, and helping people pull themselves up,” he said, explaining the organization. “It’s a really good, local neighborhood effort. I’m proud to be a part of that. I particularly enjoy fundraising. I love when the cash register rings and I had some part of it”
He even received a lifetime award recently, which also allows him to be on the board for as long as he wants to. “I’m proud of that, too,” he said.
At Gary Works, he helped create a team of ice hockey players, a sport he has been playing since he was 6-years-old.
“There's a subculture of people who play hockey at Gary Works,” he said. “You have to have had a Gary Works connection. We wanted to have that connection, and we’ve kept it going for eight years.”
“We play on Friday mornings at 3 a.m. It’s a good mixed group of people,” he explained. “It’s young players and old players, men, women, people who know what they're doing, people who don’t know what they’re doing and we make it work.”
Al Spajer is incredibly excited about the Mascot Hall of Fame and knows that it will light up the faces of many, many kids.