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Obituary of Larry David Spence


Larry David Spence died at Hershey Medical Center on Thursday, May 17th. He and his wife of 58 years, Maya, are long time residents of Milesburg, PA. They have one son, Duncan Spence (Jen,) and one grandson, Carson Spence.

He was an Associate Professor Emeritus in Political Science at Penn State and the first Director of the Schreyer Institute for Innovation in Learning. He was instrumental in introducing Problem Based Learning to the then new Institute of Science and Technology. He received his Ph D. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley. His undergraduate degree was in English and he continued to love literature and poetry his entire life. He was writing a book about higher education in America when he died. His passion was teaching and investigating ways in which teachers/professors might structure their courses so that students can ask questions instead of teachers.

He met Maya Haldiman at the University of Louisville when she was 17 and he was 21. They met in an English class where they were studying Shakespeare. He was reading Blake at the time and their first conversation was about Blake. By their third date he had proposed and she had accepted. However, her father, who was Swiss, agreed to the marriage only under the circumstances that she would study for one year abroad in Switzerland. After that time if she still wanted to marry, he would agree. She accepted the challenge and studied at the University of Lausanne for a summer and a regular school year. She and Larry were married June 27, 1959, a month before her 19th birthday. Larry was 23. Their love for each other was immediate, intense and lasting.

After receiving his BA in English at the University of Louisville, he got a job as a reporter for the Louisville Bureau of the Associated Press. Two years later, in 1961, they moved to Monterey, CA, where he became a reporter for the Monterey Peninsula Herald. He had his own column called “Along the Waterfront” and had many interesting experiences with Sicilian fishermen who invited him along on some of their sardine fishing trips. He particularly loved the fact that they ate huge pasta meals for breakfast after a long night of fishing. And he eagerly accepted their gifts of Dungeness crabs.

From Monterey, he decided to go back to school and both he and Maya attended UC Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement and anti-war demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. As a journalist interested in politics, he wrote about the political struggles on campus, impressing the Political Science Department Head who offered him admission to the Ph.D. Program. Maya received her BA in Political Science during this time. In 1970 they moved to Boalsburg with their young son, Duncan, who was born in 1967, to begin their careers at Penn State. Maya became an Academic Advisor after receiving two Masters Degrees from Penn State, one in Rehabilitation Counseling and one in Theatre Arts. She acted in many plays with Project for the Performing Arts and the Boal Barn.

They settled in Milesburg because they both loved small towns where neighbors had strong family ties and there was a stable environment in which to raise their 4-year old son. Larry was from a long line of West Virginians and was proud of his heritage. On his father’s side, the line dates back to the 1600’s. In his youth he spent many days on his grandfather’s farm helping him and learning the names of many tools, most of which are now antiques. He was a great cook and loved entertaining friends and neighbors. He gardened and chopped wood for the wood stove. He fished and hunted in the Pennsylvania waters and woods.

Larry had an inquisitive and creative mind. He could speak with anyone about anything and enjoyed coming up with inventive alternative ways of seeing things. His standards for teaching were very high and his students worked hard or dropped his class. He especially enjoyed teaching undergrads and taught many Schreyer Honors Classes. He often received visits and phone calls from former students who told him how much he had meant to their careers and lives as they matured. After he retired from Penn State he enjoyed coaching soccer with Duncan for Bald Eagle School and together they developed practices to keep the kids involved and interested in the sport.

His blue eyes sparkled with mischief and he loved to tease. He had a wicked sense of humor and a hearty zest for life. We will find the world a sadder place without him.

A Celebration of Life will be held at Above the Valley, 559 N. PA Avenue, Centre Hall, PA from 4-7 pm on Wednesday, June 6th, 2018. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Centre Volunteers in Medicine, 2520 Green Tech Drive, State College, PA 16803, or The State College Choral Society, P O Box 675, State College, PA 16804, or Bellefonte YMCA, 125 West High Street, Bellefonte, PA 16823.

Celebration of Life arrangements are under the direction of The Dean K. Wetzler Funeral Home, 201 Spring St., Milesburg, PA.

Online condolences may be made at

Name of Deceased

Larry David Spence

Date of Death


Date of Birth


Funeral Home

Dean K. Wetzler Funeral Home

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