The builders

Tom and Susan Spain are helping at-risk teenaged girls to build a better life


Tom and Susan Spain and their dog Murphy on the site of a new classroom addition for the Pace Center for Girls. The Spains, co-owners of Spain and Cooper Construction, are donating their time as general contractors for the expansion.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 7:39 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 7:39 a.m.

Four years ago, Susan Spain left with much more than she imagined after touring Gainesville's PACE Center for Girls.

Facts

Tom and Susan Spain

Ages: both 62
Occupation: Founders and owners of Spain & Cooper Construction
Family: Married 37 years in January; parents of one daughter, Betsy Cooper
Education: Both are graduates of the University of Florida
Hometown: Tom is a Gainesville native and Susan is from Palmetto, Florida

PACE (Practical Academic Cultural Education) is a year-round educational program for at-risk girls ages 12-18. She was deeply inspired by the program's mission and the young women it serves. For her, the tour was a call to action.

She soon convinced her husband, Tom Spain, to help her lead the charge for the center's $1 million expansion project at the east Gainesville site. As owners of Spain and Cooper Construction, the couple is donating their expertise and time to serve as general contractors for the project.

And Susan, along with other board members, spends countless hours networking with local private donors and business owners to secure additional funding and services to make the project a reality. The list of donated items is growing.

"The program grabbed my heart. It still makes me cry," Spain says. " I so admire the girls...they are my motivation. To have overcome what some of them have and still want to learn and have dreams...then I can do this."

The Spains are University of Florida graduates; Susan holds a degree in marketing/accounting and Tom has a degree in journalism.

The two met in 1967 in a management class at the University of Florida. Tom arrived on the first day of class and spied two women in a sea of men. He decided to sit next to "the more attractive one of the two." The couple will celebrate 37 years of marriage on Jan. 30, 2010.

"Every morning he'd come in, reading the Alligator and give me a Red Hot but would never say anything," Susan says.

It would take him three tries to get her to finally go out with him. She was dating someone else at the time.

While Tom had worked odd construction jobs to help pay his way through college, it was not a career path either of the UF grads saw in their future. But after the couple built a house on property they inherited, they eventually went into business, starting what is now Spain and Cooper Construction. That was 37 years ago. Tom is a licensed commercial contractor and Susan holds a residential contractor's license. Susan says that after working as a CPA for several years, the construction company is by far her favorite job. Tom quietly interjects, "Volunteering is your favorite job."

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