Community members are rallying to support a former Stowe ski patroller described as a “legend” by friends and family.
For 25 years, Randy Sponem patrolled Stowe Mountain Resort. With his booming voice, broad smile and a larger-than-life personality that matched the man known to ski patrol buddies as “Bear,” Sponem kept skiers and snowboarders safe on the slopes and made sure they went home happy.
In July, Randy suffered a serious stroke, and the recovery process has been difficult. To compound the tragedy, his beloved wife and primary caregiver, Jeannette, died in September.
Now, friends are raising money to help defray medical costs for the Sponem family.
“Bear was a legend at Stowe,” said Rick Murnick, a close family friend to both Sponem and his brother Bob “Bobby Bear” Sponem.
“They worked hard, they partied hard and they made sure to take care of the people who needed it,” Murnick said.
Randy, 62, and Bob, 67, are natives of Wisconsin. Bob started as a ski patroller at a resort in northern Minnesota, and after returning with tales of excitement, he and his brother sent out resumes to dozens of mountains in search of jobs.
“We sent out resumes to any place with three lifts,” Bob recalled. “We applied to Hunter (mountain in upstate New York), Magic (mountain in Londonderry, N.H.) and we applied to Stowe, which hired us sight unseen.
“The first time we skied there, we both looked at each other and said, ‘We’re over our heads,’ ” Bob said. “We saw a guy coming down Nose Dive and watched him break a ski, toss it in the woods and keep going.”
Bob said he and Randy look back with fondness on their time in Stowe.
“It was a great group of people,” Bob said. “We loved every moment, and if I were younger, I’d do it all over again. I look back on the time we lived in Stowe as ski patrollers as the best time of my life, and it was best time of his. It was like being in college, but without the exams.”
Among that group of great people was Nancy duMont, now a Realtor with Paul Spera Company Realtors. In her younger days, she shared patrolling duties and countless good times with the Sponem brothers.
“Randy is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet,” duMont said. “He’s just a sweetheart. He has this amazing relationship with his brother, Bobby.”
Randy and Bob were already patrollers when duMont joined them in 1995, and the brothers wasted no time showing her around the mountain.
“They were so great about showing me the ropes and they were very into — and proud of — being Stowe ski patrollers,” duMont said. “Back in the day, we had such a tight-knit group of patrollers. We worked hard and partied hard and got to know each other really well.”
In the late ‘90s, Randy met Jeannette, the woman who would become become his wife, at the Sunset Grille and Tap Room in Stowe, where he was a bartender and she was a waitress.
“They were the cutest couple ever,” duMont said. “They were madly in love. It was like high school. Jeanette would wear his ski patroller’s jacket.”
On Dec. 21, 2002, the two married at the Sunset Grille; later, the couple moved to Oklahoma to be closer to Jeannette’s family.
“Even though they moved away, they kept in touch with everyone,” duMont said, “and when they came back it would be a huge celebration.”
Randy suffered a profound stroke in July, Bob said.
“He had a blockage in the artery in the back of his head, which restricted blood from leaving the brain. I think it had been going on for quite a while,” he said.
Randy underwent a four-hour surgery, and doctors gave him a 20 percent chance of living. But live he did, although there were complications. Following the surgery, his lungs began to fill with fluid, requiring him to be intubated.
“His brain was intact. He knew where he was, but he couldn’t talk. We tried writing, but that didn’t work, so we used sign language instead,” Bob said.
Following the surgery, Randy experienced paralysis on his left side and was unable to raise his left arm or leg. The intubation also affected his voice.
“He used to have a loud, booming voice, but now he has a loud, hoarse whisper,” Bob said.
In addition to speech therapy, Randy is undergoing extensive physical therapy. He currently uses a walker to get about and hopes to graduate to a cane soon, Bob said.
“Last week at home, he fell twice in one day. It wasn’t pretty, but he was able to get himself up and back on his feet, and that was a big step,” he said.
On Sept. 16, Randy’s wife Jeannette died at the age of 58. She had been Randy’s primary caregiver, and with her gone, Randy’s care has fallen to his older brother.
“This whole process, we’re looking at a year,” Bob said. “I wouldn’t wish this on anybody. It’s heartbreaking to see something like this happen to someone so vital.”
To help defray medical costs, duMont has set up an online fundraising campaign, which can be found at bit.ly/bearsponem.
The fundraising goal? $4,393 — the height of Mansfield, the mountain that Randy and Bob loved and patrolled for so many years.
The Sunset Grille is also looking at holding a fundraiser sometime near the end of October or beginning of November.