Spece family focuses on their special talents
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 04/05/2012 2:00 PM
INDEPENDENCE, Iowa —Sue Spece focuses on her children's abilities rather than their disabilities. The Independence mother has dedicated her life to helping her children achieve their goals.
Her children, Joshua, 32, Jackie, 31, and Jacob, 23, have faced plenty of challenges. All three are wheelchair-bound due to spinal muscular atrophy, a form of muscular dystrophy.
Josh studied horticulture at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo. He and Sue started In the Country Garden and Gifts 15 years ago. The family is moving the business from their farm on a dead-end gravel road to a site along W35, the Quasqueton Diagonal. The new location is next to Sue's parents JoAnn and the late George Johnston's farm. The new greenhouse and gift store will open April 1.
In the Country Garden and Gifts specializes in hostas, water plants and succulents. Joshua sells 300 to 400 varieties of hostas, and his display gardens have 700 to 800 varieties of hostas. Their gift shop will sell garden art, gifts and greeting cards. They operate a mail order business via their website.
Jackie majored in health promotion and minored in dance at the University of Northern Iowa and owns Heinz Academy, which has dance studios in Cedar Falls and Hudson. Her husband, Jim Heinz, is a science teacher in Independence. They are remodeling a home near Rowley where they hope to live.
"When Jackie went to UNI, she would tap dance with her hands," Sue said. "She had gloves with cleates and she'd tap on a board."
Jacob studied dairy science at Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar. Sue drove him to school each day and waited in the van working on crafts while he attended classes.
Jacob custom raises dairy heifers for a neighboring farmer on his grandparents' farm. Before his grandpa died, he helped Jacob design and build the barn. Jacob received a grant from Iowa Self Employment to make the barn accessible for him. He hires a friend to help and calls his business Johnston Creek Farms.
"I don't let much stop me," said Jacob as he maneuvered his wheel chair through the heifer barn. "Some people might say I'm stubborn."
The three Spece children said the community effort to build them a new home is overwhelming, and they are grateful.
Their current home is in poor repair and lacks handicap accessibility. Simple transportation is difficult, as wheelchairs try to negotiate a driveway with no cover from snow or rain.
Sue gets her children out of bed, dressing, feeding, attending to their needs and gets them ready for bed.
Due to cramped quarters, Jacob and Joshua share a room.
"When you're 23 and 32, you don't want to have to share a room," Sue said.
Sue said her children's disabilities have never stopped them.
"I've tried to make sure that they did what they wanted to do with their goals," she said.
Her parents were a big help in finding ways to modify things.
"My dad always had the answers whether it was the barn for Jacob or greenhouses and ponds for Josh," Sue said.
Sue was surprised and appreciative about efforts to build her family a new home.
"We went to Bill's (Bill's Pizza and Smokehouse in Independence) and they surprised us with a blueprint of the house," Sue said with tears in her eyes. "The community has really pulled together."
The new home, which will be next to the new greenhouse and gift store, will be handicap accessible with fixed ceiling lifts and voice activated Smart Wiring to open doors and turn on lights. There will be a storm shelter as well.