Joseph Edward Spradlin

Joseph Edward (Joe) Spradlin was born on July 12, 1929, on a farm south of Dodge City, Kansas. His father, Paul Edward Spradlin was a farmer and his mother Gertrude Lorene (Miller) Spradlin was a housewife. His first 14 years of schooling was spent in school at Bloom and Dodge City Junior College. On December 23, 1948, during his second year in Dodge City Junior College, he married Rita Ruth Franks. Joe and Rita had three sons, Joseph Edward Spradlin Jr. (December 23, 1949 – deceased October 3, 2019), Donald Gene Spradlin (May 14, 1952) and Michael Lynn Spradlin (November 4, 1962). He received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Kansas in May 1951, his MS from Fort Hays State in June of 1954, and his Ph. D from George Peabody College in Nashville, Tenn. in 1959.

Joe began his professional career at the Parson State Hospital and Training Center in the fall of 1958 as a research assistant in the University of Kansas Bureau of Child Research. He worked at Parsons and Lawrence for the Bureau of Child Research until he retired in January 1995. During those 37 years he carried out numerous administrative, service, and research functions for the Bureau and held numerous titles including Associate Director for the Bureau of Child Research. However, the activity he most preferred was conducting behavior analytic research aimed at evaluating the hearing of individuals with severe cognitive disabilities and teaching skills to these individuals. The hearing evaluation procedures that Joe, Bob Fulton, and Lyle Lloyd developed allowed complete hearing tests on children who had previously been considered untestable.

In addition to his work for the University of Kansas, Joe was a nationally recognized expert on mental retardation behavior analysis. He served for many years as a member of the National Child Health and Human Development Review Committee for Mental Retardation Programs. During those years he chaired numerous site visits to Washington DC, Los Angeles, Madison, Wisconsin, Yehshive University, and Washington University. The title he valued most was Senior Scientist at the University of Kansas.

Joe received numerous honors during his professional years, including the Outstanding Graduate, Dodge City Community College, (1972); The Shriver Center Prize for Research and Service to People with Mental Retardation (1994), the American Psychological Association Division 25, Don Hake Award, (1999); The Academy on Mental Retardation Career Scientist Award (1999);The Distinguished Career Award for (Outstanding Contributions to the Experimental Analysis of Human Behavior) (2009) and the International Association for Behavior Analysis.

Following retirement in 1995, Joe, an avid bicyclist, rode his bike cross country from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida. The trip covered 2500 miles and took 35 days. Rita served as “wingman” for this trip following in their car with an extra bike in case of mechanical problems.

Upon completion of his cross-country bike trip, Joe continued to bike regularly around Lawrence for the remainder of his life. Always the scientist, he kept a log of his rides that revealed his last ride occurred on January 8, 2020, at age 90 years, for a distance of 16.2 miles. His log indicated that he rode approximately 140,000 miles since he began documentation. He frequently noted that he had ridden much farther than he had driven his car during that time.

In addition to bike riding for fitness and fun, Joe used his riding to raise money for the MS Society. Each year he would solicit for and ride in the MS 150, a fund raiser for the Kansas Multiple Sclerosis Society. As he had a sister and niece who suffered from, and ultimately died of MS, he was an aggressive fundraiser for the annual event. His last MS ride was in September 2019, when he rode 40 miles and raised about $7,000 dollars.

Besides biking and fundraising Joe also enjoyed writing his memoirs, fishing, attending his grandchildren’s sporting events, drinking wine with family and friends, and his involvement with the “Old Man’s Book Club”, a social gathering Rita organized to help Joe with socialization in case she died before he did. He loved meeting with this group regularly to eat breakfast and discuss about anything other than the books they were assigned to read.

Joe did read extensively and often quoted lines of poetry that summarized his feelings on various subjects. One of his favorite poems, one that summarized his approach to life, was Emerson’s

“Measure of Success”


To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people

and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics

And endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty and find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better whether by

a healthy child, a garden patch, or a social condition;

To know even one life has breathed easier

because you have lived

…this is to have succeeded


During Joe’s terminal illness and in the days following his death many friends and family came by or called to express their condolences and to comfort the family. After Joe’s passing callers invariably commented on how kind and gentle, he was and that he always had a “beautiful” smile.

In celebration of a “successful life” the family requests that you raise a toast to Joe and be comforted by the words of Robert Frost, another of his favorite poets,

In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life:

It goes on.

Rest in peace Joe Spradlin. Yours was a life well lived.

The family of Joe Spradlin request that all donations be made to the MS Society or Habitat for Humanity.

1 Condolence

  1. Bob & Lee Ann Duver on June 14, 2020 at 3:02 pm

    Joe’s obituary, and the included poems, beautifully sums up his life. Not only did he have an infectious, beautiful smile and an outgoing personality, but his life gave happiness, beauty, love and inspiration to others who knew him. We loved toasting wine with Joe and Rita and attending Osher classes together. He will be greatly missed in this world, but will be a great addition in the next one.

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