November 03, 2016
Barbara Sobko, left, and Karen Buckner November 3, 2016 | by Amy Bickers

“I can see!”

Mary Jean Sanspree says those words are the best part of her volunteer work in Alabama’s Black Belt. I’ll take glasses to people who have had eye exams, and that’s the fun part. They all say, ‘I can see!’”

Dr. Sanspree and her husband, Danny, have made current and future gifts to ensure those happy exclamations continue well into the future.

As a UAB professor, Dr. Sanspree was part of the Rural Alabama Diabetes and Glaucoma Initiative, conducting research and providing eye exams for those in need in the heart of the state. Dr. Sanspree, who retired in 2013, still volunteers once a month and serves on the Dean’s Community Advisory Committee for the School of Optometry.

“The gift will support rural eye care for the indigent,” Dr. Sanspree says. “What we found in the Black Belt is that eye care is the last medical care someone will seek. By the time they take care of it, they’ve had severe vision problems. They might have glaucoma and would lose vision slowly and not really notice it until it got really severe.”

In 2007, Dr. Sanspree established the Frech Family Endowed Support Fund for the Rural Alabama Diabetes and Glaucoma Initiative. Her late parents, Harry Eugene and Libby Frech, also made a gift to complete the endowed support fund. In 2012, the Sansprees included a bequest to the fund in their estate plan.

“My main goal in giving is to encourage other faculty to feel the importance of carrying on what they love to do,” Dr. Sanspree says. “When the faculty gives, it tells the public that they believe in UAB.”

From 1984 until her retirement in 2013, every day at UAB was different, Dr. Sanspree says. She floated between the worlds of research in the School of Optometry and training teachers for the blind in the School of Education. Sometimes she took graduate students from the School of Education to the Black Belt so they could participate in giving basic eye exams.

She says UAB allowed her to do what she loved. “That’s the best thing you can say about a job.”

“Through giving, you can keep your love of your job going after you finish working. You hope that somebody will come along and pick it up and love it, too.”

For information on giving to the School of Optometry: Peggy D Striplin; 205.934.9838;