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Spandward T. Mitchem of South Bend, IN passed on Thursday, January 10, 2019 in his home surrounded by family. Span was born April 7, 1932 in Morrilton, Arkansas to Scipio Sr. and Irene Mitchem, both deceased.
Span had two siblings, Scipio Jr. Mitchem and Viola (Strong) Mitchem, both who preceded him in death. They were close.
Span grew up on Fillmore Road in the “Country.” He graduated from Washington High School in 1952. While in high school he met and dated the love of his life, Alease Murphy. They were married September 19, 1953 and remained so over 60 years until Alease’s death in 2013.
Their marriage resulted in four children: Rickie (Kathy) Mitchem of Round Lake Beach, IL, Ronald G. Mitchem, Sr., Judy (Freddie) Owens of South Bend, IN, and Lynn Mitchem of Buffalo Grove, IL. Ms. Judy preceded Span in death.
Span was blessed with seven grandkids: Linnea Vance, Ronald G. Mitchem Jr., Alisa Owens, Rochelle (Marcus) Smith, Hannah Mitchem, Rebecca Owens, and Denzel Mitchem. He enjoyed 5 great-grandkids: Dakota, RJ, Camryn, Javion and Karter.
Span was the definition of a life well lived. In high school he had both academic and athletic accomplishments: a Kiwanis Award winner for academics, all-state in both football and basketball. He earned a football scholarship to Kentucky State. Span graduated from IUSB. He is enshrined in the Washington High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
Span served our country as a paratrooper in the Army. He was honorably discharged in 1955. Returning to South Bend, Span worked construction. He also worked banquet halls as a bartender and waiter.
His commitment to civic duty extended beyond the military. The City of South Bend hired Span in 1962 as a police officer. Span rose through the ranks in the police department. He was a beat officer, a motorcycle officer and then promoted to detective. Span, over time, headed the Homicide, Juvenile, Vice, and Internal Affairs Departments. He retired as Division Chief of Services.
As a founding member of the South Bend Minority Police Association, and through his efforts and others, the city hired an abundance of minority officers. Span received civic awards culminating with The Key To The City of South Bend.
The irony of being a police officer in the sixties was that Span provided additional security for both George Wallace of Alabama, a known segregationist, and famed civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr.
After retirement, Span became a US Marshal, providing security at both the Federal and Bankruptcy Court in South Bend. In addition, he helped start LAS Daycare, which Alease started in their home.
Span worked security at JC Penny. He provided security and walked the hallways of Washington High School. His kind manner and tough attitude steered many a West Side kid in the right direction.
Span was a respected member of South Bend, a gentle giant. His middle name was Theodore Roosevelt, named so that he would “walk softly, but carry a big stick.” He loved being an officer. He loved serving the community even more.
A love of God and family, high integrity and sound values were his basis for living.
A dedicated family man, Span attended athletic events all over the country in support of his kids efforts. From East Lansing to Champaign to Indianapolis and beyond, he led caravans of cars to attend these events.
He traveled extensively to exotic places like Hawaii, Mexico, Puerto Rico and wherever cruise ships took him. He was a fixture at The Circle City Classic and The Black Expo in Indianapolis. However, his favorite trips were family excursions to California, Galena, Wisconsin Dells and Myrtle Beach.
Span loved to fish. Fishing trips for walleye in Ohio and Minnesota, catfish and bluegill fishing in Michigan and crappie fishing in Florida were the norm. His nickname, well-earned, was the “Master Blaster”.
He and Alease purchased a lot in Sturgis, MI that was the family compound for many years. Legendary cookouts and fish frys happened on an annual basis. It was one of his favorite places on Earth.
Span loved to play cards. Favorite games were poker, bid whist and bridge. Often, he would play until the wee hours of the morning, along with a glass of JB, Chivas Regal and soul music on the box. Bobby Blue Bland was his main man.
Span was an avid sports fan. Not unlike many South Benders, Notre Dame was his team. For years, Span worked security at Notre Dame football games. He loved the Boston Celtics and the San Antonio Spurs. This created tension in the house as Alease, his wife, was a straight up Lakers fan.
Span’s base for living was entrenched in his love of God. He was an active member of Laymen Chapel Church, serving in many capacities. Span treated folk like he wanted to be treated. He opened his arms and his house had a revolving door for those in need.
Span had four children, but he was a surrogate dad to many more. It was not unusual for kids, related or not, to seek guidance. Span ran his household by the “always room for one more” mantra. Hundreds of youngsters were mentored by Span over the years.
Before there was GPS, there was Span. He knew the streets of South Bend as well as any cab driver. Span knew the back roads of southern Michigan and any fishing spot within 50 miles of South Bend. He was an avid fan of the Western channel. Any cowboy movie or TV shows, no matter how old, he could tell all about it.
Span suffered a stroke in October 2005, his biggest challenge yet. He was airlifted to University of Chicago Hospital, fully paralyzed. His family witnessed unimaginable inner strength through a yearlong rehab. Spandward T. Mitchem received a rarity, a true blessing from God, a miracle.
Span not only fully recovered, but also thrived. Doctors and staff marveled at his recovery. His family counted their blessing as despite the injury, Span played cards, drove his van, fished, traveled and enjoyed thirteen more years on earth.
He didn’t get there alone. Staff from The University of Chicago Neuro-Intensive Care Unit and Brentwood Nursing and Rehab were awesome. Locally, Memorial Hospital’s entire staff deserves recognition. Fountainview Living Center in Mishawaka was outstanding. The VA and Beacon Home Care were instrumental in Span maintaining a high quality of life.
Special mention goes to Span’s nieces, Barbara Weymon, who put her life on hold, and Annie Pearl Alford. His nephew, Henry Mitchell Murphy, was a consistent visitor and was greatly appreciated.
There you have it. A life well lived. Span was a server. He served his God. He served his family. He served his country. He served his community. He pressed towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God. God first, family second, and then the rest of y’all. Spandward T. Mitchem did what he was supposed to do. Then he did even more.
There will be a wake at Palmer Funeral Home West Chapel, 2702 Lincolnway West, South Bend, IN on Friday, January 18, 2019 from 6-8 pm. Services will be as follows: Viewing at Palmer Funeral Home West Chapel on Saturday, January 19, 2019 from 9:30 am -10:30 am. Funeral services start at 10:30 am Palmer Funeral Home West Chapel, Saturday, January 19, 2019. Pastor Terrell Jackson from Laymen Chapel, CME will preside over the funeral service. A repast will be held at Laymen Chapel, 303 S. Kenmore, South Bend, IN 46619. Contributions and flowers may be sent to Palmer Funeral Home West Chapel. Online expressions of sympathy may be left at www.palmerfuneralhomes.com.