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He doesn’t wear a white coat, or scrubs, but this dedicated hospital worker often receives urgent calls.
By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ask Al Spencer where the secret places are inside IU Health North Hospital and in a deadpan manner he responds: “If I told you they wouldn’t be secret places anymore.”
The truth is, Spencer knows about every inch of the hospital. He’s worked there since the hospital opened its doors Nov. 16, 2005. He came to the hospital with a background in plumbing and his job has morphed from there. Now he’s sort of a “Jack of all Trades.”
“God blessed me and I got this job and it’s been a wonderful journey,” said Spencer, 61. Before his career took him into plumbing he worked in landscaping and then traveled from coast to coast crushing cars with a monster truck.
In his role with IU Health he says there’s seldom a “typical day.”
“There are days everything is going along normal and then the toilets get clogged or a filter gets backed up and we have a flood,” said Spencer. As he walks the halls of IU Health doctors, nurses and the chef greet him. He gets to know just about everyone and often lends a helping hand when a coworker has a need at home. “I love the camaraderie here,” he says.
When he’s not at work – sometimes seven days a week – Spencer is riding his candy orange Harley motorcycle. He’s traveled to all four corners of the country including 46 states. Each year he joins a group of his buddies and they travel up to 6,000 miles.
He has another passion too – serving others.
“I’m an alcoholic 21 years sober and I was at an AA meeting one night and one of my buddies asked if I’d like to go on a mission trip,” said Spencer. “I said ‘yes’ but I wasn’t going to fly.’” A lot happened after that first trip. He overcame his fear of flying and he caught the bug to use his talents to benefit others.
His first trip was to Nicaragua where he worked on plumbing for a mission building. He later took a second trip to Nicaragua and also to Kenya twice.
“You see so much beauty and then you shift your eyes and people are living in dirt. You learn a lot about yourself. There’s anxiety for the unknown and you can get overwhelmed but once you get there and meet the people and see how friendly and spiritual they are, you forget everything else,” said Spencer.
In Kenya he worked on water purification systems. He visited children in orphanages and joined widows working in the rice paddies.
“It’s hard work thrashing rice and they all laughed so hard watching me try. I need to stick to plumbing – something I know,” said Spencer, who still maintains friendships with people he met on his trips.
In February when Texas was hit hard with a surprise winter storm, Spencer joined a group to help work on frozen pipes. He tears up as he talks about “Miss Madeline,” one of the residents who were overjoyed to receive the aid.
“She didn’t have any water for two weeks. We’d fix some leaks and then we’d have more. We were there to get the basics done not to re-plumb but it was challenging,” said Spencer. Before the team left, Miss Madeline asked them their shirt sizes and she gifted them with insulated vests embroidered with their names. He tells stories about eating pizza with tenants of a drug house, and feeding the homeless.
“I’ve got the ability and I can use it,” said Spencer. I get so much out of it that if God tells me where to go, I take a leap of faith and I go.”