Local Obits

Obituary of Shirley Sprague


January 22, 1935 – May 20, 2024

Our beloved, stubborn, beautiful, and boundlessly kind mom, aunt, and grandmother Shirley “Sassy” Sprague passed away in her sleep, surrounded by family, on May 20, 2024. She was 89 years old and is survived by her children Donald Tyler Sprague (Leslie Cary), Kimberley Elizabeth Sprague (Tom Rohde), and Diana Sprague Gallagher (James Gallagher). Respectively, her grandchildren are Nathan Edward Sprague, Owen Foster Sprague, and Liam Tyler Sprague; Camille Sprague Rohde and Madeline Sprague Rohde; and Conner James Gallagher and Micah Castle Gallagher. Shirley is also survived by her two sisters Nancy Bell (husband Malcolm) and Susan Krchak (husband Ken).

Long before she became “Sassy”, Shirley Anne Sprague came into the world on January 22, 1935 in Middletown, Ohio, born to Ethel May Greene and Royner “Roy” Greene. She used to love to say there were many uncanny coincidences on the day she was born with the number two: she was the second child, born January 22nd, on a Tuesday at 2:22 AM, and her childhood home was at 220 Franklin Drive. Ethel was from an Irish-Norwegian family in Chicago, and her father Roy from a Swedish family in Pennsylvania; the pair met while attending college at the University of Illinois. Ethel and Roy would go on to have a total of five children: June was the eldest, followed by Shirley, Royner Jr., Nancy, and Susan Greene. Shortly after Shirley’s birth, her family moved to Ithaca, NY for Roy to take the position of Basketball and Baseball Coach at Cornell University. Her father took the position to provide opportunities for college for his children, offered to Roy after he led the Ohio State High School Basketball to a championship victory as their head coach. Shirley cherished the small gold basketball her father received as a prize and wore it on a chain around her neck.

Growing up in Ithaca were happy times, despite the challenges of WWII and her father being away to work in a chocolate factory (he often sent delectable samples back home). Shirley’s mother taught gym and dance to help with the growing family before and after her father returned home to coach at Cornell. Her mother’s poems written about their lives from those years were immortalized as they were collected and published by Shirley and her siblings. Shirley relished this time and told childhood stories of eating dirt, riding bikes and roller skating all around, neighborhood games of kick the can, jumping off the bridge into Beebe lake as a teenager, and caring for her siblings (Susie became “her” baby). Shirley was often shy and self-conscious, but she blossomed in baseball- outrunning all the girls and boys and was even eventually recruited to play in the “All-American Girls Professional Baseball League” (portrayed in the movie “A League of Their Own”). Although her parents decided she should not join due to her young age, she spoke proudly of the honor of being recruited.

Shirley graduated from Ithaca High School in 1953 and went on to attend Cornell University and then Keuka college. Shirley’s dream was to marry and have a big family, a dream realized when she and David Tyler “Ty” Sprague married in 1958. They welcomed their first child Donald (“Don”) in 1960, adopted their second child Kimberley (“Kim”) in 1966, and had their third child Diana (“Dee”) in 1967. All three children were deeply loved and nurtured by the best mother in the world.

Growing up for Shirley and Ty’s three children was largely idyllic. Shirley and Ty founded the business “Upstate Auto Wholesale” together. The family eventually settled into a log house Tyler designed on Brickyard Rd. in Lansing, NY. Talk about idyllic! The walls leaked when it rained, and mornings could be freezing with only a wood-stove, but all loved this cozy home set up on the hill. This home was the center of all social and family gatherings as well as a children’s hangout full of mischief and fun. Shirley was at the center of it all — her children’s friends became her own. Shirley continued her tradition of hosting any and all at the home she later purchased on a pond in a park outside of Ithaca, where she lived post-retirement.

Shirley will always be in our hearts for her generous spirit and kind, down-to-earth nature — a quality that especially shone through in her love for her family and friends. Her entire life was lived in the service of her three children, seven grandchildren, and countless nieces and nephews. Shirley’s home was always a bustling hub of family activities and joviality, where many laughs were shared over playing games at the dining room table. Her young grandchildren frolicked about playing with the many toys she kept on hand, which were passed down for generations. It wasn’t just grandkids, all were drawn to Shirley and welcomed by her.

Jessi Woodward, the daughter of a dear family friend (Julie Morris), first called Shirley the nickname “Sassy” when she could not pronounce “Shirley.” Sassy loved it because her initials were SAS (and she was sassy afterall!) so the nickname stuck. She was never one to stand on formality and all could show up to her house in pajamas, wear anything they chose, be rowdy, and completely themselves. No matter who they were, Sassy would greet all the same at her front door: with a big hug and a warm “I love you!”. She became known for her stash of cookies, love of chocolate, and for downing a pint of ice cream like nobody’s business!

Sassy lived a lifetime of selfless deeds for others. We will always and forever be grateful for the warm and loving family environment she created for us all. Beloved by so many names; rest well Mom, Shirley, Sassy. We love you so much and will cherish your memory always. We will see you another day!

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