Shorewood — Debra Spector lives on in the thoughts of her family, in the words of her friends, and now in the lives of the students helped in her name.
Sunday was the one-year anniversary of her abrupt and untimely passing at the age of 39 due to diabetic complications. This Friday, Valentine's Day, marks the bittersweet anniversary of the funeral attended by her family and several hundred friends.
Creating a memorial fund
To honor her name and the love she had for Shorewood High School, her father, Howard Spector, has donated $25,000 to fund the self-sustaining Debra Spector Memorial Scholarship.
The memorial fund has been invested by the high school. Every year $500 worth of proceeds will be awarded to a student bound for nearby University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where Debra earned her undergraduate degree.
The high school is still soliciting scholarship applications from seniors and will announce the winner and unveil a commemorative Debra Spector plaque near the end of the school year in May.
Sadly this is not the first time the Spectors have exhibited such generosity. Howard has previously created an endowment at Nova Southeastern University in the name of Debra's older brother, David, who tragically died in 2004 of a drug overdose at age 33.
"What I want to do is keep both of my children's names alive," said Howard, now a Florida resident. "She would have liked that idea. Just to honor her name would be the easiest way to say it."
Debra's vibrant life
After graduating from Shorewood in 1991, Debra attended Boston University before returning to finish her undergraduate at UWM. From there she earned a masters in political management from George Washington University and later a law degree from the University of Wisconsin, where she later became a law professor.
In all her time and travels, Debra's vibrant personality, quick wit, and sense of humor were all constants, the sorts of things which helped her cultivate the nationwide network of friends.
Debra's best friend Elizabeth Jacobson describes her as an "incredibly, incredibly smart" person who could answer anything and had a joke about everything.
"She valued friendship and family above anything," Jacobson said. "She would give you the shirt off her back, and then make fun of you for wearing a too-small shirt."
In the words of her friends, Debra was wickedly funny and smart, tough on the outside with a warm heart on the inside, an irreverent practical jokester, and a fierce and loyal friend.
Jacobson said Shorewood High School was a crucial factor in making Debra, and the whole class of 1991, who they were.
"The thing that formed the core that we can come back to is Shorewood and that amazing high school," Jacobson said, "and the amazing opportunity this community and high school gave us."
In honor of both, Jacobson and others close to Debra are encouraging donations to the fund to spread her legacy and improve Shorewood graduates' lives, to share the bright spirit so perfectly summarized by her epitaph: "Always leave them laughing."
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Anyone intersted in making a tax-deductible donation to the scholarship fund may make checks out to Shorewood High School with "Debra Spector Scholarship" in the memo line.
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