James Spainhower, former Missouri State Treasurer, has passed away at age 90.
An ordained minister, Spainhower was heavily involved in the political landscape of the Show-Me State over the span of several decades. He served for four terms in the House of Representatives, representing Saline County, and two terms as the State Treasurer before diving into the education sector before returning to preaching.
The 39th Treasurer of the State of Missouri served as the chief financial officer from 1973 through 1981. In 1976, Spainhower set a record, which held nearly four decades, for the bringing in the high percentage of a statewide Missouri official with 69 percent. That record was broken by former-Auditor Tom Schweich in 2014.
“Jim was always seen as ethically very solid and someone who was a good policy person,” said former Governor Bob Holden as to why Spainhower was an excellent candidate. “He believed in public policy and was not afraid to reach out and try to enlist people in the effort. He was very accessible.”
In the time before technology was as prominent in every statewide office as it is today, his office issued approximately 393,000 checks per month. At the time, the office consisted of just more than two dozen staffers.
For the fiscal year ending on June 30, 1975, Spainhower distributed $2,096,103,557.41 for the state. He earned $20,000 yearly as the State Treasurer.
Spainhower may have been a preacher by trade but he was not new to the management of state resources. He served in the Missouri House of Representatives for four terms from 1963 to 1970. During his time in the lower chamber, he was a member of the House Appropriations Committee for six years and Chairman of the House Education Committee for four years.
In 1968, his leadership in behalf of education inspired the St. Louis Globe-Democrat to give him its Meritorious Service Award. He made a foray into the education field after politics.
“You’re talking about an individual who was truly a genuine ethical individual that didn’t go out and preach it, he just did it,” Holden said. “To me, that is what is lasting about people like that. They lead by example.”
Born in Stanberry, Spainhower attended Maryville High School before going on to Phillips University and Lexington Theological Seminary. He earned both his master’s and doctorate from the University of Missouri while he served in the legislature. He holds several honorary doctorates.
Elected as treasurer in 1972, Spainhower served for two terms, one under Governor Kit Bond and another under Governor Joe Teasdale.
With Bond, he helped create the Missouri Housing Development Commission.
“My thoughts and prayers are with his family. Jim was a loyal servant of Missouri. The people of Missouri are better off because of his public service,” said former Governor Bond.
Spainhower primaried Governor Teasdale for governor before going on to primary Warren Hearnes for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate after Jerry Litton was killed. John Danforth ultimately won that election.
In 1981, Spainhower (front row, far right) was chosen to join the Academy of Missouri Squires: 100 individuals, at most, which seek to honor Missourians for their accomplishments at any level. Spainhower joined the Squires in an 8 person class that included as August A. Busch III, Jay Dillingham, and William H. Webster.
Spainhower served as the first board chair of the Children’s Trust Fund in 1983 and was known as a reformer by colleagues.
Spainhower went on to serve as president of the College of the Ozarks, President of Lindenwood University, and President of the Division of Higher Education for the Disciples of Christ denomination.
The former treasurer continued to preach after retiring from higher education.
“He’s one of the most wonderful men I’ve ever known,” Randy Sherr, longtime politico and lobbyist, said. “A great mentor and teacher.”
Spainhower not only leaves behind not only a legendary legacy but a literal one in Capitol staffer Theckla Spainhower.
Rachael Herndon was the editor at The Missouri Times and also produced This Week in Missouri Politics, published Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosted the #MoLeg podcast. She joined The Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.