A few friends of mine from Neshaminy High School in suburban Philadelphia were taught English our junior year (1964-65) by J.D. Sprague. Mr. Sprague’s curriculum of American novels – including The Catcher In The Rye, 1984, Brave New World, A Separate Peace, and many others – blew our minds before blowing minds was a thing. He was provocative, encouraging, and, even more, demanding. He inspired me to be a lifelong reader and, later in life, an author.
From time to time over the years, a few fellow NHS grads (notably Tom Greenfield, who later dedicated the dissertation for his Ph.D. in English to Mr. Sprague) and I would wonder “Whatever happened to Sprague?” but made little effort to actually find out. After yet another one of those ruminations earlier this year – when I turned 70 and realized he had to be in his late 80s, if he even was alive – I decided to give it a good go.
To make short a long story that wended its way through the archives of the Bucks County Courier-Times, the University of Pennsylvania (including, notably, its Alumni Office, and friend and UP grad Norman Brand), and the staff at the headquarters of Mr. Sprague’s college fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, I ultimately talked on the phone with his son Jeremiah in New Orleans. When I explained to him why I was calling, he told me his father was indeed still alive, 88, and playing tennis three times a week. He said he’d give him a call and see if he would talk to me. Fifteen minutes later, my phone rang and a still unmistakable voice said “Dave Tevelin?”
Over the next few months, we e-mailed and talked over the phone regularly. When I told him I had started writing novels, he bought them both and sent me an e-mail a few weeks later telling me how much he particularly enjoyed Siege Of The Capital. “Finally,” I wrote back, “an A from Sprague”.
Here are photos documenting a story that, like Siege, is unbelievable, but I am very happy to say, true.