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by Tumbleweed Smith

"I just like to do interesting things. Different things. I'm a dreamer."

Don Spencer taught high school art in Winnie for forty years and planned to enjoy sitting around with his memories. He spent two months in his recliner watching TV and nearly went crazy. He got up and started a whole new life. He'll be 83 on December 21st and people half his age can't keep up with him.

Since his retirement, Don has bought a huge building and turned it into an antique mall. He sells everything imaginable, but books are his number one seller. People regularly pull up in front of his building with a load of something and Don usually buys it. The other day a man drove up with a pickup bed full of about 25,000 marbles. They now belong to Don.

Don sees many of his former students and when the classes from 1970 to 1979 had a reunion cruise to Mexico, Don went with them and had a ball. He has nineteen members of his family around Winnie. His kids married local kids and earn their living in the oil patch, teaching and various other pursuits. That says a lot for Winnie. People don't leave. Don's roots in Winnie are deep. He's been there since 1932 and is continually looking into his city's past. When I went to visit him recently he was doing research on his high school's basketball team, which had winning seasons for nearly ten years straight.

Nine years ago when a nursing home was being built across the street from his house, the builders decided not to have a garden. So Don put in one on two acres of his property next to his house. Don is busy. "I've never required much sleep. I get up at four o'clock and work out for nearly an hour. I work in the shop for an hour or so, then go to my brother's place for a cook shack breakfast, then I work in my garden until ten, then go to the antique mall and stay there until five."

His garden is a showcase in Winnie. He spent eighteen months building it. "It's the most delightful thing I've ever done," says Don. "It has lots of plant life, statuary, bird feeders, bird baths, swings, tables, benches and a whole bunch of quotations sprinkled around. A brick path allows people to tour the garden in their wheelchairs. About six weddings a year take place in the garden. It's the only thing I charge for. We have meetings and reunions and people come with a sack lunch at noon and sit and read for an hour. Photographers love the garden and use it as a backdrop."

Don decorates the garden for different seasons: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, Mardi Gras, Valentine, Easter and July 4th. His biggest decorating jobs are for Halloween, Mardi Gras and Christmas. He'll have 50,000 lights in his garden from 6 to 10 every evening leading up to Christmas. People take walking tours through the garden to see the displays and hear Christmas music.

Don has been retired twenty years and says he is happier than ever.

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