Both Ohio natives, Bill and Norma Sprague were students when they met at Ohio University in Athens. “We met in a bacteriology class,” said Norma. “It was our junior year.” She was a smart and studious Phi Beta Kappa honor society member working toward a B.A. degree in zoology and biology. Bill’s career path had been set in motion during the previous three and a half years, and really throughout his childhood. He, like 19 others of extended family, was destined to become a physician.
“As a kid I wanted to be a Canadian Mountie,” said Bill. Turns out, the uniform he would wear would be that of a United States Naval Corpsman. By the time he and Norma met, he was already a war veteran who had seen more pain, suffering and brutality than most 21 year olds today could ever imagine. He had served the United States from 1943 to 1946 as a Corpsman with the Marines in the Pacific campaigns.
While Bill was serving as a Corpsman, Norma took advantage of the newfound employment opportunities that were open to women. “The war provided me with a good job and when it was over, I took my money and went to college,” said Norma.
After they graduated from Ohio University, Bill served his internship and residency at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. During this four year period, Norma worked at Blodgett Hospital and obtained a degree in Education and became a third grade teacher. They returned to Athens where Bill went into private practice with his father and older brother.
They were lured back to Grand Rapids by this exceptional community. Bill became a highly respected OB/Gyn specialist and by his own estimate, delivered around 7,000 babies at Butterworth and St. Mary’s hospitals throughout his career. During this time, Norma worked at home raising their three children, Suzanna, Katherine and John.
Bill stayed true to his wartime interest in international health and in 1962 took his first of what would be a lifetime of medical trips that took him around the world to dozens of countries. For the past 20 years, he has focused on global eradication of polio through the auspices of Rotary International and the World Health Organization—always as a volunteer. Also during this period of time Norma often accompanied him to work in the refugee camps of Vietnam and Afghanistan. At home Bill served on the boards of United Way, American Cancer Society and Indian Trails Camp. He also worked as a volunteer physician at Cherry Street Health Clinic and Clinica Santa Maria.
It was Judge Donald DeYoung who introduced the Spragues to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and for many years they have been regular contributors. “We considered a private family foundation, but it didn’t feel like the best option for us. So we established a Donor Advised Fund,” said Norma. Their Fund was established in 2005. In 2006, the couple decided to take advantage of a new IRA charitable rollover and gave some of their retirement assets to the Community Foundation. With the IRA gift, they established a scholarship fund for students attending Ohio University. Eligible students will be from Western Michigan or Athens County, Ohio. The scholarship honors Bill’s father and brothers and all the Sprague family members who came from Athens and attended Ohio University, as well as Norma’s brother Fred Kodes, another Ohio University graduate. “We’re pleased to share our gift of this fine school with others,” said Norma. “We are fortunate to be able to help both communities in this way,” said Bill.