At 95, Dolores Spangler still loves a busy life

Celebrates 95th birthday on Tuesday

Dolores Spangler, 95 years old, uses her lawn tracker to get around her 1.5 acres at her home in Homer Township.

Work always has been a big part of Dolores Spangler’s life, and she’s not stopping at age 95.

Spangler’s latest vocation is that of a cap maker.

She knits caps and sends them around the country and to Europe, primarily for the purpose of making people happy.

“People say, ‘Why don’t you charge?’ I’m not going to charge,” Spangler said. “I make them to bring a smile to people. We need more smiles in this world.”

Spangler has sent her caps to Ukrainian refugees, a Tuskegee airman veteran who turned 100, and just about anyone she or any of her six children can find that may want one.

“Do you know my hats are in seven different countries?” she said.

Dolores Spangler, 95 years old, took up knitting stocking caps during the pandemic in 202 and since has made over 400 hats, that she gives away in exchange for a photo wearing her work.

She’s made more than 400 of them since starting in 2020.

Spangler turns 95 on Tuesday.

On Saturday at the Homer Township house where she has lived most of her life since 1955, Spangler talked about the value of making caps, being active and a life that now has spanned nearly a century.

She talked about growing up in Joliet as one of 15 children of Croatian immigrant parents.

She talked about getting married to her late husband, Leon, also a city kid who grew up in Lockport, and their failed attempt to start a farm on Gougar Road.

“Everything that could go wrong went wrong,” Spangler said of the endeavor that sounded like a macabre inspiration for the old situation comedy “Green Acres.”

“Our crops died,” she said. “Our animals died or ran away. It was funny.”

One day they came home and found the family dog had massacred the chickens. They even had a fire.

“So, we moved here,” Spangler said.

That was about 1955. Leon got a job at the Texaco oil refinery in Lockport and built the house along Route 7 himself. The couple lived in the basement at first. The house became a home for a family of six children.

Two of them – Diane Spangler Ramirez and Debbie Cooper – were with their mother at their home Saturday. Both live in California, where their parents moved for a brief period when their father transferred to a Texaco refinery there.

Diane Spangler-Ramirez (left) walks with her mother Dolores Spangler, 95 years old, along with her sister Debbie Cooper at Dolores’ home on Saturday, April 15, 2023 in Homer Township.

The daughters help spread around their mother’s caps. They are popular in her neighborhood in Southern California, where the winter has been unusually cold, Ramirez said. She also created a book telling the story of the caps and the places where they have gone: Ukraine, Croatia, Poland, Switzerland, England, Scotland and the U.S.

“It’s given her a new purpose,” Ramirez said of the caps and her mother.

But Spangler does not seem to need to be given a purpose.

Her daughters say their mother tires them out during visits as they try to keep up with her as she does yard work and gardening.

“She does take two naps a day now,” Ramirez said. “That’s when I can rest.”

Spangler still mows her own grass, using a Cub Cadet riding mower that also serves as a tractor that she rides for her chores on the 1.5-acre lot.

Although Spangler failed as a farm wife, she excels as a home gardener.

“I am an avid gardener,” she said. “Everything you see in my yard – flowers, plants and trees – I planted.”

Dolores Spangler, 95 years old, enjoys the Magnolia tree she planted years ago at her home in Homer Township.

Her first gardening experience was in Joliet where her family and neighbors planted gardens along the canal wall that channels the Des Plaines River through the city. The soil was fertile, and the gardens helped feed the large immigrant families.

“We had cabbages as big as basketballs,” Spangler said.

Her maiden name is Svetlecich. Her immigrant parents were part of the Croatian neighborhood that surrounded St. Mary Nativity Catholic Church, where Spangler was married.

It was in those days that Spangler developed the habit of being busy and getting things done.

“Coming from a big family is a plus,” she said. “We had the best times with just our brothers and sisters. Toys? We didn’t have toys. But work – you could always find work to do.”

She and her sisters would walk five miles to a dance hall on Caton Farm Road, where Dolores and Leon first met. To get back home from those dances, one sister would become friends with a boy who had a car.

“And, he would take us home,” Spangler said. “We had a good thing going.”

She still has a good thing going with her home, her family and the caps she makes. So good that Spangler finds it difficult to understand why there seems to be so much unhappiness.

“I feel we need happiness,” she said, showing photographs of people who received her caps. “Everyone who gets a hat, they put it on and smile. That’s payment enough for me.”