H. Spees, long-time advocate for Fresno and pastor, dies
FRESNO, CA. – H. Spees, a long-time advocate for Fresno, died Friday after suffering a fall while on a trip to Florida.
According to his family, Spees experienced a fall on April 26 that caused a severe head injury. He was being cared for at a Florida hospital for days before he died on Friday.
In an online website where relatives provided updates on Spees’ condition, dozens of people shared memories and sympathies for Spees. Relatives of Spees requested those concerned to pray for the family.
Friday, the family shared a message stating, “H peacefully passed surrounded in love this afternoon. His body was so ready to rest that when all support was removed, he instantly left us.”
In a GoFundMe to support the family, Spees was described as having "a unique ability to make others feel seen and heard."
Spees, who had also been a pastor at Northwest Church in Fresno, grew up in Los Angeles and his work took him out of state to help improve communities going through deep challenges.
When he moved to Fresno in the ‘90s, he became a senior health administrator with the Fresno County Department of Public Health.
As he shared with KVPR in 2016, that work launched his decades-long mission to help communities in Fresno.
Spees once said he was attracted to Fresno by the strong diversity of Black, Latino and Hmong communities. He called Fresno a spectacular city but not one without challenges.
Spees often spoke about his decision to move to the Lowell District in downtown Fresno, and reflected on that decision as one that helped him view the city differently.
During an episode of Valley Edition on KVPR in 2016, Spees said, “The city was losing its soul,” referring to violence in the city especially as it impacted young people.
Spees led an effort to move families to the city’s inner core and took part in work to revitalize historic areas of the city gripped by poverty and violence.
Spees often spoke about rebuilding communities “from the inside out” and putting residents in charge of the change. That work included connecting communities with each other and building trust among the city and its residents, he would say.
“I just sensed something very special about Fresno – that people worked together here, that people had a vision and a love for their city and that there were some incredible leaders,” Spees told KVPR in 2016.
Much of the work to revitalize the city was also about bringing together support from private and public funders.
Spees was once a candidate for mayor of Fresno, but though that never materialized he went to work directly for the city.
Spees’ position before retirement was tackling the homelessness crisis in Fresno as director of Housing and Homelessness Services.
According to Spees’ family, an education scholarship will be established to continue Spees’ legacy “of care for vulnerable people.” Those details are forthcoming.
Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer said in a statement on social media that he was heartbroken to learn of Spees’ death. Dyer called Spees a dear friend of 30 years and a pillar of the community.
“H spent a lifetime helping people in their time of need,” Dyer said.