Oscar was born to Carl O. and Essie Mae (Benson), and along with his brothers, Lyle and Raymond, and his sister, Louise, was raised in Silverton, Oregon.
After a carefree youth, the Depression caught up with Silverton in the early ‘30s, and Oscar’s father, a logger, lost his job when the lumber camps closed. Oscar’s extended family helped each other to get by, and Oscar’s parents traded mortgages with another family, thereby moving from their ‘in town’ house to ‘the farm’ of 17 acres that had a barn, chicken coop and a house without indoor plumbing. With pluck and perseverance, the Specht family rebuilt and expanded the farm and his father eventually landed a job at the Silver Falls Lumber Yard. This ‘boot-strap’ mentality of hard work, and family helping family, remained with Oscar for the rest of his life. The Specht family may not have had much money, but Oscar was very proud of his family’s values. During high school Oscar was a three-sport athlete and also played the clarinet in the school band. During the summer months he worked in the local hops and strawberry fields.
While competing in the 1934 and 1935 state high school basketball tournaments, Oscar caught the attention of the basketball coach from Willamette University. Oscar played all four years while at Willamette, graduating in 1939 with a degree in Business Administration. While in college, Oscar sold shoes at Miller’s Department Store, worked a summer job for the State Highway Department patching the Columbia River Highway, worked in a cannery for $.25 an hour, and worked for meals by washing dishes in various Salem restaurants.
Oscar then joined Union Oil Company in Seattle, earning $120 a month; what he envisioned as a great sales career began with steam cleaning oil barrels for reuse. In 1940, and with a low draft number, he decided to apply to the Army Air Corp and reported for cadet training at Oxnard CA, not knowing a thing about airplanes.
World events were constantly changing and Oscar’s flight training requirements were condensed; instead of 12 hours of training, Oscar flew solo after only six hours. More training ensued, including advanced aerobatics, navigation, formation flying and low level flying, and learning a few words in Morse Code. On December 7, 1941, Oscar was flying a six-plane formation when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Cross-country training was cancelled and all flying was done by ‘dead-reckoning’ or celestial navigation. The timeline was accelerated for Oscar to obtain the required 200 hours of flight training to qualify for a pilot’s rating and a 2nd Lieutenant’s commission; he completed the training and was assigned to the Air Transport Command at Long Beach, CA. His first assignment was delivering airplanes from factories to various bases in the U.S., and for a boy from Silverton, seeing much of the country in this way was a thrill. During the war years, destinations included Ascension Island; Africa; Khartoum; Egypt; Iran; India; Newfoundland; Scotland; Russia; Guam; Manila; and later, Japan. By war’s end, Major Specht had flown 17 different types of airplanes, logging more than 2400 hours combined on twin-engine and four-engine planes. He recently stated, “We never got lost but we weren’t always sure of our position.”
In 1943, Oscar was stationed in Memphis, where he met Esther Marie (“Bootsie”) Proctor from Wynne, Arkansas on a blind date. They celebrated her 21st birthday the next day with a dinner that included her parents. Being a “hotshot” pilot, Oscar bought Bootsie a gardenia corsage as a gift, and it wasn’t long until he decided she was the girl he was going to marry. It took him a while longer, however, to convince her that he was serious. Married in 1945 in Wynne, they spent their honeymoon driving cross-country to Hamilton Field, California where Oscar would be based for the remainder of the war.
Oscar and Bootsie then settled in Salem, where Oscar represented Mutual of New York Life Insurance Company for 55 years, and where they raised children Susan, Gregory, and Rebecca. Oscar was a long-time member of the Salem School Board, serving as Chairman, and also served on the Oregon State School Board; was active in the Life Underwriters Association of Salem and served as President of the State Life Underwriters Association; and, was an active member of Salem First Baptist Church. Oscar was a member of the Salem Elks Club; together, he and Bootsie were members of the Salem Subscription Club, the Waverly Dancing Club, three dinner-bridge groups, and Illahe Hills Country Club. They especially enjoyed their many years with the “Neskowinners,” a group of eight couples who golfed and socialized annually at the coast. Oscar always enjoyed watching any sport that involved a ball, and was over 90 years old when he made his final putt.
Oscar was loved by many, and respected by all who knew him. A man of few words, he sometimes had a gruff demeanor yet it wasn’t long before he knew most people in the room. Oscar held firm to his convictions and beliefs; he could argue logically and with civility; and he could agree to disagree with diplomacy. He and Bootsie raised their children with firmness and unconditional love; they loved having friends and family to their home and the memories of those occasions include lots of laughter. Oscar’s faith in God was strong and lifelong, never wavering. Even as he mourned Bootsie’s passing in 2014, Oscar knew he’d see her again one day, and his family rejoices they’re now together forever.
Oscar is survived by his children, Susan Levack (Tom), Gregory (Roxanne), and Rebecca Newcomer (Brian); grandchildren, Kinley (Burt) Welly, Alison (Dan) Norton, Michelle Levack, Whitney (Matt) Bechtold, Mathew Specht, Madeline (Colin) Bruns, and Libby Newcomer; seven great-grandchildren; cousin, Nancy Bleakney; and nieces and nephews, Martha Stiffler, Mark Mulder, Kathleen Munro, Jack Munro, Randy Specht, Dan Harrelson, Keith Harrelson, and Woody Harrelson.
Oscar’s family wishes to extend their deep gratitude and appreciation for the loving care and support given by his caregivers, nurses, wait staff, support and office personnel at Capital Manor. They brought joy to Oscar’s life each and every day. His family wants to also thank Willamette Valley Hospice for providing additional comfort to Oscar and his family during his final days.
A celebration of Oscar Specht’s life will be held at 2:00 p.m. Saturday, March 17, 2018, in the Auditorium at Capital Manor in West Salem. A private burial in Willamette National Cemetery is planned.
Remembrances to the Capital Manor Foundation.
Guest Book Entries
Knowing Oscar’s daughter, Susan, and her family is a testament to the fine gentleman Mr. Specht was. His esteemed character has been inherited.