Jean Cummings Collingwood Spelman

Jean Cummings Collingwood Spelman was born in the first Century of World Wars, on a snowy night, January 9th, 1921 in Centerville, Michigan. Her mother and father, in some, made some poor choices including moving their young family to Washington D.C. Jean rectified that by getting back to Michigan after high school.

Raised with her five siblings, Jean reveled in the delights of the District including annual Easter Egg rolling on the White House lawn and adventures on the Capital Mall. Her father, G. Harris Collingwood, was a professional forester in the Roosevelt administration who later worked as a researcher at the Library of Congress.

Because her family maintained real estate in Michigan, Jean qualified as an in-state tuition allowing her to avoid attending George Washington University and instead attending Michigan Agricultural College (later renamed, Michigan State University). A proud Kappa Alpha Theta, Jean graduated with a teaching degree which she used teaching Junior High School for several years before retiring to raise their family. Spending college summers in South Haven, Michigan with her aunt and uncle, Laura and Stanley Johnston, at the Michigan State Experimental Station meant that she met the love of her life, John “Jack” Spelman.

An active member of her church for over 75 years, The First Congregational Church of Saint Joseph, Michigan, Jean served in many capacities. She was the first female to give a sermon from the pulpit, first female Deacon of her church as well as serving as Sunday School teacher, and in the Martha Society. She was active in the Fort Miami Historical Society, recently renamed “The Heritage”, serving as President once and a Board member repeatedly. Jean believed strongly in the power of local history to keep vital the relationships defining who we are as a community. Jean sought to take history out of the static into the dynamic for everyone to access, contribute to and pass on to the next person. Jean particularly reveled in the self-told family stories of people who had invested their lives in Berrien County with joy and dedication.

Jean took particular joy in dinner parties in their home, Christmas Tree hunts on the South Haven Spelman blueberry farm, and enjoying the community of her friends and family all along the shores of Lake Michigan. She believed strongly in the power of family and of showing up to one’s commitments. She especially delighted in hosting dinner parties where people would stay long into the night deep in conversation after enjoying thick steaks from the grill, ratatouile and her rhubarb sabyon with custard sauce;

Jean is pre-deceased by her husband of fifty-four years, ‘Jack’ John Henry Spelman; her son, John Houston Spelman; and four of her five siblings: Charles Collingwood, Harris ‘Buddy’ Collingwood, Thomas Collingwood, Rebecca Collingwood McHale. Jean is survived by her son, Michael Spelman (Lorie) of Tecumseh, her daughter, Kate Spelman of Seattle, WA; her daughter-in-law Rosalie Spelman; her sister, Eloise Prescott (New Hampshire); four terrific grandchildren, Todd Michael Spelman (Grand Rapids), David Spelman (Adrian), Katherine Spelman (Western Springs) and Henry Spelman (Cambridge, England); and two great-granddaughters.

When asked what was the funniest thing in her life, she answered,
“Hands down, it was my effort not to fall in love with Jack Spelman. I had other things that I wanted to do with my life than be in a staid marriage (the only sort of marriage that I had ever seen). I was pretty adamant that getting married was the last item on my immediate agenda. Instead, I wanted to be happy…. But he was a patient fella. And I got married and I was very, very happy; and had a wonderful life, and all because I didn’t get what I thought I wanted. I am too old for regrets. The smartest thing I ever did was marry Jack Spelman. I lived a magnificent life, a far better life with him than I could have alone. I had wonderful, healthy children and community of great friends in one of the most beautiful places in the world, Berrien County MI. What a life!”

Donations may be made to ‘The Heritage’ in Jean’s name, please earmark the donations to the ‘Berrien County oral history project’ there at The Heritage, Saint Joseph Michigan.  Those wishing to leave a condolence or sign the guest book online may do so at

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