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Saturday, January 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A classy woman who loved the classics

Times Snohomish County Bureau

Perhaps her greatest gift was the link she forged between the masters of ancient Greece and the modern-day scholars who continue to pass on that wisdom.

Winifred Weter played her own direct role in scholastic history as well.

In 1933 she earned a doctorate from the University of Chicago — a rare feat for women of her generation — and then joined the faculty of Seattle Pacific University, where she taught Greek and Latin for 40 years.

She also served as the school's first female coach, guiding the women's basketball team and other athletes for 13 years.

Miss Weter died Jan. 3 in her Laurelhurst home. She was 96.

"She in so many ways was a trailblazer," said Seattle Pacific University President Philip Eaton. "She was a fascinating person; lived a fascinating life."

Tiny in stature but forthright and forceful in character, Miss Weter commanded respect and attention when she spoke, her former students and colleagues said. Her staunch defense of the classics, and their timeless import to our culture, had a lasting impact upon the university.

"You don't leave the classics out if you're interested in what's good, true and beautiful. She stood for that," said professor Mike Macdonald, who met Miss Weter in 1967 when he joined SPU's faculty.

When Miss Weter retired in 1975, the university created a faculty contest in her name. Each year the winner delivers a formal lecture at the prestigious event.

Macdonald won the Weter award in 1984, delivering a 45-minute talk on C.S. Lewis as a defender of God, freedom and immortality. As was customary, Miss Weter then took the podium to add her own comments.

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"She basically said, 'When are we going to get another woman speaker?' " he recalled.

Macdonald and other past recipients plan to sit together — wearing their Weter medallions — at her memorial. The service, at 2 p.m. today, will be at Prospect Congregational Church, 1919 E. Prospect St., Seattle.

Miss Weter was born in 1909, the daughter of James Weter — founding partner of the Seattle law firm of Weter, Roberts and Shefelman, now Foster Pepper — and grew up in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. She earned a bachelor's degree in 1930 from the University of Oregon, then three years later completed her graduate degree in Chicago.

She never married. She cared for her father during his final years, and after his 1959 death designed her own home overlooking Lake Washington.

"She told me she swam in the lake virtually every day of her adult life," said the Rev. Larry Quanbeck, a former student.

Quanbeck treasures the time he spent with Miss Weter, first as a student and later as a friend. He was among three classical Greek majors in the graduating class of 1972.

"She always had this social activist bent to her," said Quanbeck, now interim minister of a Lutheran church in Cypress, Calif. "She cared deeply about people's capability to live peacefully and justly throughout the world."

Quanbeck recalled wrestling with the Christian response to the Vietnam War during his college years. Miss Weter was "immensely helpful," he said, as he proceeded to secure conscientious objector status.

"Miss Weter," as she preferred to be called, invited students to her home each quarter for a traditional Greek meal, followed by slide shows illustrating her many trips to Greece, Italy and Egypt.

She was ecologically minded, and lived an intentional, no-frills lifestyle. She hired students to tend her garden, using organic methods long before they were fashionable. Perhaps her best-known student was Eugene Peterson, best-selling author of "The Message," a contemporary paraphrase of the New Testament translated from Greek.

"She was a very alive person. She had a passion for taking us into that ancient world and the Greek language," said Peterson, a retired Presbyterian minister and college professor.

After the book's 1993 publication, he said, he returned to SPU to deliver a few lectures. Miss Weter congratulated him, saying she'd looked up a specific verse from the Book of John.

"She said, 'I wanted to see if you got this right. Nobody gets this right.' It was some difficult grammatical construction, and I was so proud of myself that I'd passed," he said, laughing.

Throughout her retirement, Miss Weter met regularly with a small group of ministers, helping them translate and study the old Greek biblical texts for use in their sermons.

Then several years ago, she suffered a debilitating stroke, losing her ability to speak. Her friends continued to visit.

Last year, when the SPU women's basketball team made it to the NCAA Final Four, the team visited Miss Weter's home.

"Here's this tiny little old woman who was basketball coach and these big towering women," Eaton said. "They were inspired by it. They thought it was very cool they could do this, reach across all those years."

Diane Brooks: 425-745-7802 or dbrooks@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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