William C. Specht Jr., 88, cared for son with Down syndrome

January 09, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

William C. Specht Jr., a Taneytown father who despite blindness and failing health insisted on caring in his home for his son, who suffers from Down syndrome, died Friday of a massive stroke at Frederick Memorial Hospital. He was 88.

Until the last few weeks of his life, when he was moved to an assisted-living facility, Mr. Specht and his son, Denny, 47, had been inseparable.

The elder Mr. Specht, the former owner of a Thurmont dry-cleaning establishment, worked for 24 years as a presser at J. Schoeneman Inc., the Owings Mills clothing manufacturer, until he retired in 1988.

When Denny was born in 1954, doctors told Mr. Specht and his wife, Hilda "Tilly" Stine Specht, that the boy had Down syndrome, a birth defect that causes mental retardation.

The outlook was hopeless, doctors advised. They said Denny wouldn't sit up until he was age 2, wouldn't walk or be able to feed himself until he was 4, and would never attend school. Furthermore, they said, he would be lucky to reach his 12th birthday.

Both parents intervened in Denny's life and refused to send him to Rosewood, a nearby institution. They drove their son and other retarded children to area programs and were active in the Association for Retarded Children.

In 1997, The Sun profiled the father and son and highlighted the concerns of aging Americans who care for older disabled children.

"It's a time a'comin' when he won't even have me at all. I'll pass away. I'm getting to the end, I know it. I just don't have another life to live over to keep him. This is the end," Mr. Specht said then.

After his wife of 52 years died in 1996, Mr. Specht took care of his son's daily needs. He cooked meals, dispensed medications and packed lunches for the workshop the son attends each day. He made sure that his son was shaved and dressed and that his teeth were brushed.

"Moving Denny to an institution was never a consideration. My parents had promised each other that they would take care of him, and that's what he did. He had fulfilled that commitment," said a daughter, Carolyn Abrecht of Woodbine.

"Denny was his life. He never took a vacation and they always went everywhere together," she said.

During the past three years, with financial support from Maryland's Developmental Disabilities Administration, the Spechts were able to enjoy the benefits of Change Inc., a Westminster organization that promotes independent living for adults with developmental disabilities.

The Spechts were able to stay in their home, and no longer had to worry about meals, getting to doctor appointments or housekeeping.

"It was fun working with them. They were both friendly, and Mr. Specht had a great dry sense of humor," said Michael E. Flaherty, an independent living coordinator with Change Inc.

"He and Denny were very dependent on each other and they were very close," he said.

They enjoyed dining out at establishments such as the Hillcrest Restaurant or Boydies in Littlestown, Pa. After Mr. Specht was unable to drive because of blindness, workers from Change Inc. drove the pair.

"When Mr. Specht asked you to dinner, you were his guest, and he insisted on paying. He'd get mad if I tried to put a dime in the parking meter," Mr. Flaherty said.

Heather L. Powell, director of support services for Change Inc., said, "They had a very strong bond, and when the staff picked up Denny to go bowling on Wednesday evenings, his dad went right along to watch."

Ms. Powell described Mr. Specht as a "man on the go" who was a great storyteller.

"I loved listening to his stories. He did a lot during his lifetime and knew tons of people," she said.

Born in Yellow Springs, the son of a farmer, Mr. Specht left Frederick County public schools in the sixth grade to help his father on the farm.

During World War II, Mr. Specht served with the Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge and in the Rhineland campaign.

He was a member of Disabled Veterans of America, Lions Club and Taneytown Senior Citizens.

He was a member, former deacon, cemetery treasurer and trustee of Monocacy Church of the Brethren, 13517 Motters Station Road, Rocky Ridge, where services will be held at 11 a.m. today.

Besides his daughter and son, he is survived by another daughter, Nancy Lee of Libertytown; two sisters, Frances Morgan of Yellow Springs and Irene Rhods of Frederick; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Sun staff writer Diana K. Sugg contributed to this article.

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