Danny Spreitler ran track at Long Beach High School. He was voted Mr. Perk at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. After studying at Mississippi College, and working for the family business in Wiggins and then focusing on healthcare administration in Northeast Mississippi, he took a high-profile position as executive director of the Gilmore Foundation in Amory.
But it wasn’t until his 15-year-old daughter, Taylor Spreitler, springboarded to fame earlier this year as the newest soap star on NBC’s “Days of Our Lives” that Danny Spreitler found himself truly in the limelight.
“It’s been an unbelievable ride for our family,” he admitted. “But at the same time, I’m not surprised at all. Taylor has been driven I suspect since the day she was born. I don’t think a day has passed that Tay didn’t know what she wanted to do.”
As a preschooler, Taylor looked up to her big sister, Samantha, who was on the beauty pageant circuit with another South Mississippi native, Lacey Chabert, now a movie starlet. After winning a national beauty title at the age of six, talent scouts signed Taylor to a modeling contract, prompting a move to New York City with her mom, Denise.
Print ad assignments for Macy’s, Land’s End, Sak’s and Avon led to TV commercials for Chuck E. Cheese’s, Jif peanut butter, Motrin and Hess Oil, and mother-daughter moved to Los Angeles.
Soon after, Taylor popped up in MTV and NBC promos, and appeared on an episode as Chloe Sellers on “Law & Order: SVU” in 2005. Agents also discovered she could sing like an angel; she joined a small group for a rousing rendition of the national anthem at the AXA Liberty Bowl in 2008.
In between voice and dance lessons, acting coaching sessions and schoolwork, Taylor went on countless auditions. After answering the call for a young teen actress to join the “Days” cast, Spreitler was surprised to receive a call-back.
“Most of the girls in the room were 18 to 21, so I was sure they’d go with someone older,” recalled Taylor, a petite green-eyed blonde who turns 16 Oct. 23. “Then two days later, my mom showed up at the studio door to pick me up, and her jaw was to the floor. I just knew something terrible had happened!”
When her mom was finally able to verbalize between gulps that Taylor had booked a three-year contract with “Days,” “then my jaw dropped to the floor,” she said. “I still couldn’t believe I’d gotten a call-back! We screamed in the car all the way back to the apartment.”
For her first on-air appearance Jan. 6, Taylor, playing Mia, showed up in a back alley as a pregnant teen trying to sell her unborn baby on the black market.
“Now that’s just what any dad wants to hear about his sweet Southern belle daughter,” joked Danny.
The greatest challenge of managing Taylor’s hectic schedule, he said, has been finding the proper life balance.
“Regardless of what each of us is doing, we’re a family first,” Danny explained. “While Tay is the only one on television, each of our children is pursuing their goal. (Older siblings) Damion is running the family cleaning business; Samantha is wrapping up her education; Alicia is busy being a mother and working full time. And in each case, they’re there supporting each other. While some may call things a sacrifice, we call it building our family.”
After working for his father-in-law, Metro Taylor, who founded Timco Inc. in 1969, one of Mississippi’s leading wood treating plants, Danny switched to healthcare administration. In June 2001, he joined Gilmore Health System as CEO. When HMA bought the health system in December 2005, he became executive director of the Gilmore Foundation.
“We’re focused on early childhood education, resolving the drop out problem and advancing educational opportunities for all residents of Monroe County,” he shared. “We view the world and our community a bit different than most. We believe every problem has a solution. We believe in dreaming big because dreams do come true.”
The education of Mississippi’s children, he said, is the single most important issue facing the state.
“The saddest, most heart-wrenching statement ever made was two years ago at a dinner we hosted for our elementary teachers, who told us ‘we have children entering kindergarten that are already behind,’” he said. “It ripped my heart out. How in the world can this happen? How can we let a child start life behind? This is the catalyst behind our GELI Program. Children from birth to (age) five are our heart and soul at the foundation. We’ve spent over a million dollars improving childcare facilities. We partnered with Dr. Cathy Grace and her team at MSU and opened the door to improving the quality of education in the centers in Monroe County. We joined with Linda Southward and her team at MSU for MS Kids Count. Mississippi has the greatest depth of early childhood resources and we simply do not use them.”
Monroe County residents might be surprised to learn the foundation will pay for two years of education at Itawamba Community College. It also provides free wireless broadband internet service to about 80 percent of the City of Amory.
Even though the Gilmore Foundation doesn’t have an official spokesperson, Taylor has helped bring attention to its mission.
“Tay tells everyone she meets about the work we do here,” he said. “She has a number of causes that are very dear to her heart; autism is at the front of her list.”
However, “The foundation is a bit unique. I have the privilege of working for a group of leaders that do not want publicity. They want results.”
Danny said his daughter is a role model for young women that set goals, research how to meet those goals, do what it takes to achieve them while remaining wholesome and sweet, with family values in check.
“Tay is my sounding board for ideas for young people,” he said.
About Taylor’s blossoming career, he is admittedly “so proud of her. Not for all that she’s accomplished, but for the young lady she’s become while accomplishing those goals.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.