WINONA, Minn. – It took her nearly 92 years, but Louise Spencer can check the last item off her bucket list.
The Twin Cities great-grandmother has taken a spin in the driver's seat of an 18-wheeler.
“I can’t think of anything else that I would want to do that I haven’t done,” said Louise, before climbing up in the cab of the tractor-trailer, a week shy of her 92nd birthday.
As she watched from a few feet away, Wanda McCarra took note of her mother’s pants. “I couldn’t talk her out of wearing the tight jeans,” Wanda laughed. “I told her she didn’t need to wear those, she’d never get in that truck.”
Tight pants and all, Louise climbed the steps and slid behind the wheel of the massive Volvo truck.
Tom Gierock, a truck driving teacher at Minnesota State College Southeast in Winona, provided Louise with her instruction.
But Louis credits her late husband Leo for the inspiration. Leo was a truck driver and Louise had long thought about giving it a try herself.
“Tons of steel and rubber rolling down the highway is beautiful,” she said wistfully. “All of them aren’t pretty, but most of them are to me.”
“When I look at her, I can’t help but smile,” said JUMP! founder Webb Weiman, who documented the drive with a video crew.
“That’s a big truck, it’s huge, and she just drove it off, just like no big deal,” said daughter Cheryl Fairchild, who flew in from Atlanta to witness her mother’s wish granted. “My mother’s driving an 18-wheeler. Would you not go see your mother do that?” she laughed.
Neither of Louise’s daughters doubted that their mother was up to the challenge. She was, after all, the same woman who raised four children on her own after her first husband abandoned the family.
“She worked all day - she was a dental assistant - and then she’d come home at night to sew clothes for people to make extra money,” said Cheryl, noting also, that her mother survived breast cancer and a mastectomy earlier this year.
Louise’s drive was confined to the college’s closed course. Still, Gierock needed to gently remind her to slow down on the corners.
“I forgot to tell you all I have a heavy foot,” Louise responded playfully.
A short time later she stepped down from the cab to a round applause and a certificate from the school declaring her an honorary truck driver.
As for the 35,000 pound truck, “I’d like to take it home with me,” Louise smiled.