Lyla Spelbring, known as Spelly to her friends, was born and raised in Clinton, Illinois. At the age of 20, she knew she wanted to join the military. On her 21st birthday, November 10, 1943, Lyla joined the Marine Corps. As a member of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, she was stationed in Hawaii and was selected for advanced training in the motor transport school. After six years in the Marine Corps, Lyla decided to use her GI Bill. She completed her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy at Western Michigan University in 1951. Almost immediately after this, upon seeing a picture of a U.S. Army occupational therapist, she enlisted in the Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant implementing treatment programs for war veterans. Lyla served six years in the Marines and a total of 21 years in the Army during World War II, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War. She retired from the Army in 1982 with the rank of colonel.
She returned to Western Michigan University in 1959 to complete her master’s degree in education. While working as the director of the OT program in the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department at the University of Michigan Medical Center, Lyla began a Ph.D. program. She received her doctorate in medical care organization in 1981 from the University of Michigan. Her dissertation, “Loss and Resumption of Role Activities Following Stroke”, is still cited today. Lyla left U of M to begin a career in academia at Eastern Michigan University. From 1974–1984, she served as the director of the Occupational Therapy Program, the director of the Department of Associated Health Professions and interim dean of the College of Health and Human Services.
Lyla was the consummate professional. She lent her expertise to committees on the local, state and national levels. Wherever she served, she made a difference. Her work was acknowledged through numerous awards. Dr. Spelbring was named a Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association in 1973, and in 1971 she received the Award of Merit. In 2002, Western Michigan University’s Department of Occupational Therapy inducted her into the Outstanding Alumni Academy.
In retirement, Lyla remained an active member of her community, engaging in meaningful occupations and spending time with friends and family. She loved genealogy and in 2010 she received the Lucy Mary Kellogg award from the Michigan Genealogical Council for her outstanding contributions. She also served as a volunteer driver for Livingston County Catholic Social Services. Until her death in 2011, Lyla pursued life with vigor and enthusiasm, and she remained true to her favorite saying: “Either lead, follow or get out of the way.”