By Ian Dixon
Joe Spear was born in 1944, in Canton, Ohio, where he grew up with his three sisters. He attended Central
Catholic High School, where he excelled as a student and was also an athlete. He was the president of the
National Honor Society, a writer for the school newspaper, and a member of the wrestling and track and
field teams. His specialties were shotput and discus throw.
Throughout his youth, Joe had to work to help his family. Joe’s first job was in the
summer, mowing lawns around the neighborhood. He had just turned eleven and needed ten
dollars to buy a boy scout uniform for himself. During eighth grade, he had an early morning
newspaper route. While attending high school, Joe worked over two hundred hours each year as
a junior janitor at the school for 50 cents an hour to earn his tuition. He also did the same to pay
for his sister’s tuition so she too could attend Central Catholic.
Joe went on to study at La Salle College in Philadelphia, graduating cum laude in 1966.
Initially a biology major, he changed his mind and switched to philosophy. His college career
was made possible by two scholarships. One scholarship was given to him by his own school.
And one was a National Merit Scholarship provided by his father’s employer, the Pennsylvania
During three summers in college, Joe went to Mexico in literacy building and community development
projects. Afterward college, he spent two years in the Peace Corps with an
agricultural development program in India. This work inspired him when making his future life
decisions, including the choice to become a teacher. Joe eventually returned to the United States
and taught English at his high school alma mater. Then he spent a year teaching 5th and 6th
grade at a small Catholic grade school. He then went back to school at Kent State to receive his
second bachelor’s degree, in elementary education. Joe would later earn a master’s degree from
the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in Teaching English to Speakers of Other
He met his future wife, Elizabeth Freeman, when they taught together at an elementary school in Upper
Darby, Pennsylvania. He also taught ESOL for eight years in Delaware County,
Pennsylvania, elementary and high schools. In 1982 they moved to his wife’s hometown,
Wakefield, to help in her father’s dry cleaning business. After several years, they returned to
school teaching. After 20 years in the Methuen Public Schools, he retired.
Joe devoted his career to helping others, an attitude that went on to influence his personal
choices as well, Joe and Liz would adopt three children, with the hope of giving them a better
life than they had before. Peter was adopted from the Philippines when he was six years old.
Anna Joy was adopted from Thailand when she was three. Rachel was adopted from Thailand
when she was nine. Joe and Liz made it a goal to help their children learn about their own
culture. Joe even learned how to cook signature dishes from their kids’ homelands to make them
feel connected to their identity. Though if you ask his family, the best meal that Joe makes is