Thelma Winter, August, 1915 – July 2017
Thelma Winter, a beloved Portland (Union) Adventist Academy teacher for 31 years and a pillar in Adventist education, passed away peacefully just shy of her 102nd birthday. Over her 50-year career, Winter taught Spanish, English, Advanced Placement English, History, Bible and served as school librarian.
After her retirement in 1981, she and her husband, Robert Winter, spent their time traveling. But upon his death a year later, she returned to the classroom for another 20 years. She taught a final year at PAA, then Emerald Junior Academy, Bakersfield Adventist Academy and Newbury Park Academy.
Winter kept her professional tools sharp. She continued to modify her teaching approach as times changed and new understandings of learning came to light. Well before dyslexia was understood, Winter recognized potential in bright students who struggled and she discovered tools that helped them succeed.
One such student was
Dr. Terry Johnsson. Johnsson, who was chosen to share Winter’s eulogy, shared about his struggle with severe dyslexia, which was not well understood in those years. Upon his arrival to PAA he’d spent years being told by many teachers and administrators that he wouldn’t ever finish school. But at PAA, he met Thelma Winter; a woman who believed all students could succeed.
“Mrs. Winter was a teacher with a capital ‘T’,” he said. “She met with me after school every day. I not only passed English but I passed Spanish, too.”
Johnsson went on to receive two college degrees from Oakwood University, a graduate degree from La Sierra University, and a doctoral degree from Wesley Theological Seminary. “Thelma Winter saw potential in me when no one else did,” he said.
While jogging, Thelma collected coins she found along the way. In total, she collected $12,000 in change over the years. She donated it to International Children’s Care.
That same tenacity for her students could be seen in other areas of Winter’s life. Even at 101 years old, she claimed she never felt old. She began jogging at age 50 and didn’t stop until 96. She stayed “young” by surrounding herself with young people, playing games, cracking jokes, and continuing to learn. Even in her oldest years, she spent daily time with teens at Newbury Park Academy where her granddaughter, PAA 1979 alumna Tracy Harder, teaches and where students and staff affectionately called her “grandma”.
Winter often told her family she didn’t want her mind to outlive her body or her body to outlive her mind. In the end, God honored her hope. She passed peacefully from natural-causes, surrounded by her family. Her wit was sharp until the end.
Winter’s memorial service was an inspirational reminder of the precious relationships that develop through Adventist education. When asked that former students stand, nearly three-quarters of the congregation rose to their feet. Many others were former colleagues.
No doubt about it, Mrs. Winter followed her purpose to love young people. She introduced them to the rigors of language, literature, poetry, history, and bible, but most importantly, she shared Jesus.
In a written statement from 2012, Winter said, “I won’t live long enough to write all the fond memories I have of PUA and PAA … I have loved all the precious people I have taught.”
Read Thelma’s Life Sketch HERE.
Read Thelma’s memories of PUA / PAA HERE.
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