For many years to come, people who enter a Catholic school in suburban Rochester — as well as a park in the Southern Tier — will be reminded of a man who was deeply respected and is greatly missed.
Displayed in the main foyer of St. Lawrence School in Greece is a photo of one of its alumni, Andrew J. Sperr. One hundred miles to the southeast, in the Town of Big Flats, a memorial park is being created where the 33-year-old was killed March 1, 2006, while on duty as a New York State Trooper.
The influence of Trooper Sperr’s life and death can be measured by the swift response to a scholarship fund in his memory created in May at St. Lawrence. It had already surpassed the $26,500 mark by Sept. 6.
“I thought $5,000 would be nifty. I’m just so pleased,” remarked Trooper Sperr’s father, Andy.
Trooper Sperr was the youngest of Andy and Jean Sperr’s 11 children, all of whom attended St. Lawrence. His dad originated the scholarship idea.
“I was thinking, what would he like, how could he best be remembered? The more I thought about it, the more I recognized this would be a great place for him to be remembered,” Andy Sperr said.
That sentiment was shared by Joseph Holleran, school principal, who said the school seeks to highlight people whose professions put them in harm’s way. For instance, it conducts an annual prayer service on Sept. 11 for firefighters and law-enforcement personnel.
“We look for role models for children here. We want our children to be knowledgeable and good, upright citizens,” Holleran said, adding that the scholarship also gives St. Lawrence “an important connection to keep with the whole Sperr family.”
Some of the money has come from Holleran’s own family following the July 13 death of his father, Martin, an Elmira resident. Family members agreed that in lieu of flowers, donations to the new scholarship fund would be requested.
“I was thinking how much Dad supported Catholic schools. I mentioned that, and everyone jumped right on board with it. Dad would have liked that,” Holleran said.
Another significant remembrance of Trooper Sperr is in progress at the site of his murder, on Lowe Road off Kahler Road in Big Flats. A memorial park is being created there that includes a hiking trail and a nature area, recalling Trooper Sperr’s love of the outdoors — a passion that, according to Andy Sperr, had enticed his son toward becoming a farmer after retiring from law enforcement.
A candlelight service at the site took place Sept. 1, on the six-month observance of Trooper Sperr’s death. The park’s official dedication was scheduled for Sept. 9. Meanwhile, the Town of Big Flats recently announced plans to change the name of Lowe Road to A.J. Sperr Drive. Hundreds of volunteers have pitched in to prepare the park, and state police from Troop B — to which Trooper Sperr belonged — have taken lead roles in its development.
The impact of Trooper Sperr’s murder upon his comrades also was evident on March 6, the day of his funeral. St. Lawrence Church was packed with thousands of people, including police personnel from several states and Canada — and even from as far away as Louisiana, where Trooper Sperr had gone on a mission trip just after Hurricane Katrina. The funeral congregation extended into the church parking lot, forcing cancellation of school so that extra accommodations could be made for the uniformed mourners.
“This has got to be a plus for law enforcement — and they need a lot more respect than they get these days,” Andy Sperr commented.
All these efforts honor a young man who was an exemplary officer and loved his profession.
“He had that desire as far back as I can remember,” Trooper Sperr’s father said.
His life was cut short just after his 10th anniversary as a state policeman. On March 1, Trooper Sperr was gunned own after pulling over on Lowe Road a car that had allegedly been involved in a bank robbery at a nearby Chemung Canal Trust Co. branch. The alleged gunman, Anthony Horton, is awaiting trial in Chemung County Court on 10 counts including aggravated murder, second-degree murder and robbery. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Sept. 18. Horton and two other suspects in the robbery and murder are being held in Chemung County Jail.
Sadly, this isn’t the most recent of police shootings in the region. Ralph “Bucky” Phillips is the prime suspect in the death of Trooper Joseph Longobardo, who died Sept. 3 — three days after he and Trooper Donald Baker Jr. were shot near Fredonia, Chautauqua County, while taking part in a manhunt for Phillips. Trooper Baker was critically wounded. Phillips had been at large since escaping from Erie County Jail in April, and surrendered Sept. 8 in Akeley, Pa., after being cornered by police. Phillips also is suspected in the June 10 shooting of Trooper Sean Brown during a traffic stop near Elmira. Trooper Brown was wounded but survived.
Several months after the tragedy involving Trooper Sperr, mourning continues amid a steady stream of public acknowledgements such as bumper stickers and the renaming of a golf tournament for him.
When asked how he’s coping, Andy Sperr paused at length and then said quietly, “With difficulty. I can’t find adequate words for that. I hope, with time, I’ll be able to handle it.”
He and family members have made numerous trips to the memorial park, as well as other appearances in their son’s honor — something Andy Sperr said he plans to continue indefinitely.
“I want to keep his memory alive, and I’ll do anything I can to make that happen,” he stated.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Donations to the Andrew Sperr Memorial Scholarship may be mailed to St. Lawrence School, 1000 N. Greece Road, Rochester, NY 14626. Call 585/225-3870 for details.