Making his way through waist-high parsnip plants, Jim Spangler leans over to pull carrots from the dense, black soil. They emerge thick and bright, with huge tufts of green swaying over his forearms that bear the small, red hashes and pricks that are the telltale signs of a gardener. “It’s God’s blessing,” he exclaims when asked about the secret to the vitality of the plants.
Pauline, bronze from head-to-toe, holds up a grand Dutch Flathead cabbage that looks as though it weighs thirty pounds. It is one of 384 cabbage plants that Jim and Pauline Spangler have planted in their vast Lewiston garden. It accompanies 200 broccoli plants and rows of carrots, parsnips, beets, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, potatoes, raspberries, herbs and more. It is enough to feed multitudes of people.
And it does.
On this day Jim Spangler has already dropped off 305 pounds of garden-fresh produce to the Community Action Food Bank to total 2,800 pounds so far this season. The garden yields an average of about 8,000 pounds a year. “I call it Yahweh’s Garden,” he says. “As I’m planting I ask for God’s blessing to provide food for those in need.”
Jim, who has served on the Monastery’s Development Council, is also active in the community relief efforts of the Knights of Columbus and cooks in the Salvation Army soup kitchen twice a month. He celebrates this ecumenical effort that happens because of many area churches working together. But it’s not always easy. “What is gut-wrenching is to see the children come through the line. There are over 2,000 people in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley alone who are homeless and 400 of them are children. They are living beneath bridges and buildings.”
The Spanglers have been married for nearly 50 years and before they retired, were active golfers, skiers and travelers. But then Pauline’s aging mother, Zita Reisenaur, needed care. Finding residential care unsatisfactory, the Spanglers moved Zita in with them, eventually discovered an elderly-friendly house in Lewiston, and retired and moved down from Moscow to be closer to the larger family and enjoy the warmer weather. Then their lives became all about being at home.
Their new house sat on a large, triple lot. They sold part to developers but were still left with a large area of land. “The soil was so beautiful,” says Jim, “too beautiful to not plant something. And it’s Benedictine to care for the land. We have been inspired by the Sisters’ legacy of agriculture. I am sure Sister Wilma helps bless this garden!”
The Spangler’s relationship with the St. Gertrude Community goes back to when Sister Cecile Uhlorn was campus minister at the University of Idaho. Jim worked as publications manager for the Washington State University Extension and Pauline worked for Latah County Title. Since then, they have traveled with Sisters to visit Benedictine monasteries in Europe, including the St. Gertrude’s motherhouse in Sarnen, Switzerland when Sister Cecile was living there. “We have many heroes in both Benedictine communities,” Jim says.
They feel particularly inspired by the Monastery’s vision statement: Prayer awakens. Justice impels. Compassion acts. Thy kingdom come. “We need to take care of each other. We have to listen to Spirit,” says Jim, “but often we’re not listening because we’re drowned out in all this activity. Then we have to act. We need to be Jesus to each other. The Gospel of Jesus is the Gospel of the Poor, if we don’t respond to the poor we have totally lost our way as a church.”
Jim gazes exuberantly at a rosy Honey Crisp apple while Pauline picks sun-soaked Golden Raspberries and passes them out for everyone to eat. “It’s a miracle I’m even here,” says Jim referring to his double bypass heart surgery in 1986. “I am doing what God calls me to do, until God calls me home. The Spirit’s talking. We just need to say, ‘Yes, Lord, I will follow.’”