A lifelong educator passing on his passion to younger generations, middle school teacher James Spinale spent his entire teaching career in Whitman.
He taught life science for over three decades —34 years to be exact — and he jokes that it was eventually time to retire … except he never did.
Now at age 86, as a volunteer for the last 20 years at The South Shore Natural Science Center located on Jacob’s Lane in Norwell, he continues to educate and give back to eager learners.
Spinale has the world of science at his fingertips, often researching species from the pond, and viewing organisms within the local ecosystem. He is placed wherever they require him as an educator and day-to-day things change for special events, he added.
The center, which is owned by the YMCA Organization, sits on 30 acres surrounded by 200 acres of town conservation/recreation land consisting of meadows, woodland, and a pond. In addition, the Science Center is home to the EcoZone – an interactive museum featuring live native animals, owl exhibits, children’s agricultural garden, and six interpretive trails, according to their website.
He emphasizes that the students and visitors learn what is directly around them in their own backyards that is his desire to teach kids to get out and explore.
As a youngster he knew his calling.
“It is something that I always wanted to do since I was a little kid … science. I had to collect things and it blossomed from there,” he said. “I was always interested in life sciences as opposed to the earth and physical science but I did teach them as well – the volunteer work is now focused on life science.
Spinale and his wife Jeanette, along with friend Al Benbenick, both also career long teachers in Whitman, traveled extensively and were very involved at the conferences for the National Science Teachers Association.
Their travels with the program over several decades brought them through most of the major cities across the country.
“We attended throughout the United States and this year the conference is being held in Boston,” Spinale said.
They have also presented in several countries as part of the Association — with an international branch at the University of Moscow, at a University outside Mexico City and also in Toronto, to name a few.
Other highlights of his occupation include being named to the Massachusetts Science Teacher Hall of Fame by his peers and as a long time member and board of director for the Massachusetts Association of Science Teachers.
He also experienced an intense five-week research program at Woods Hole Research Center on a ship in the Gulf Stream with their focus on collection of samples through the water columns. He said they were mainly checking for microscopic beads or tar balls that indicated tanks of oil were being dumped in the waters by ships passing through.
There were other research areas on pollutants, planktons and various organisms, he said.
Spinale recalls the opportunity to return home over 40 years ago to teach — as a gift of sorts — He and his wife were newly married and had prepared to settle down with a house and family in Catskill, N.Y, where he taught for his first three years.
The teaching opportunities opened up in Whitman and after discussing their life plans- the young couple packed up and returned to the south shore- knowing they would be closer to family, which is very important to them both.
The Spinales have grown children and grandchildren and siblings that he meets with monthly for lunch.
The gathering of his siblings he lovingly refers to as “board meetings.”
He has a brother who has lived in Halifax for more than 50 years and sisters who both also reside in Massachusetts.
“We usually meet half way and have lunch. We get together and beat on each other,” he laughed.
Aside of his love for science, family and the environment a key to his enthusiasm, youthfulness and energy is continuously learning; getting outside in nature, and recognizing and appreciating what is right in your backyard.
He admits as time has gone by he may need a reminder of a name when he runs in to former students.
He may need a hint on the class year but he maintains he always has a soft spot for his students and is thrilled to see them bringing their families to the science center.
He would encourage visitors to experience the center and its offerings. Their website southshorenaturalsciencecenter.org is updated with programs and special events.