David K. Winter, Westmont’s longest-serving president to date, died Saturday, August 15, at the age of 84. He was born Sept. 15, 1930.
Winter served as president of Westmont from 1976-2001 and returned as interim president and chancellor in 2006-07. Under his leadership, Westmont became a nationally ranked liberal arts college. He helped strengthen the quality of the faculty and students, facilities on campus, student life and outreach programs, the endowment, and off-campus study opportunities.
“Westmont continues to benefit from Dave’s contribution during his long and distinguished service,” says President Gayle D. Beebe. “The college and our local community are fundamentally different and better because of his vision and the work he accomplished. The Kingdom of God is also richer and better for the many ways Westmont graduates serve throughout the world.”
Winter articulated a compelling case for liberal arts education, which develops essential skills such as communication and critical thinking. He described it as the best possible preparation for leadership careers. A man of deep and sincere faith, he enhanced spiritual life programs and opportunities for student ministry. Actively involved in national higher education organizations and accrediting agencies, he championed faith-based institutions. He promoted student life programs and sought to create a strong campus community for students to help educate the whole person. In 1986, Bowling Green State University released a study of higher education officials and scholars that named Winter as one of the 100 most effective college leaders in the United States.
Winter served in the U.S. Navy for four years as an air intelligence officer and earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from UCLA and a doctorate in anthropology and sociology from Michigan State University (MSU). Under a Ford Foundation grant, he conducted anthropological field work in Lahore, Pakistan, for 18 months. He taught at Wheaton College in Illinois, Calvin College in Michigan, and earned tenure as a professor at MSU. In 1970, he became the academic vice president at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, rising to executive vice president in three years. In July 1976 he returned to his native Southern California to serve as president of Westmont, succeeding Lyle C. Hillegas (1972-75).
Three days after he arrived at Westmont, President Winter spoke before the county planning commission, which approved Westmont’s request to increase enrollment to 1,200 students. The board of supervisors later upheld this decision. Winter went door to door to meet the college’s neighbors and hear their concerns. After the devastating Sycamore Fire in 1977, he encouraged 500 students to volunteer to help local residents who lost their homes in the blaze. Winter continued reaching out to the neighborhood and the community, strengthening relationships. He led efforts to gain permission to average enrollment at 1,200 and to build 41 homes in Las Barrancas for faculty families. He also started the work of updating the college’s approved master plan.
In 1998, Winter suddenly lost 80 percent of his eyesight due to restricted blood flow to the optic nerves. He quickly adapted to this condition and continued to lead the college, relying on his excellent memory when speaking and leading meetings. He retired in 2001 but returned for a year in 2006 while the college sought to replace Stan Gaede, Winter’s successor who had stepped down to resume the life of a scholar. Gayle D. Beebe became Westmont’s eighth president in July 2007.
After his second retirement, Winter served as headmaster of Providence, a college-preparatory Christian high school in Santa Barbara, from 2008-2011. Winter served on numerous boards, including Cottage Health System, the United Way Campaign, the Mosher Foundation, Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce, Montecito Association, Montecito Rotary Club, Santa Barbara Industry Education Council, Cottage Hospital, Oaks Christian High School, Providence High School, Independent Colleges of Southern California, Christian College Coalition, Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, Braille Institute, Young Life, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Habitat for Humanity, Senior Commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the Council on Higher Education in Washington, D.C.
A longtime community volunteer, he received the Santa Barbara News-Press Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998. The Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse named him one of their Twelve Men of Distinction. In 1999, the John Templeton Foundation selected Winter as one of 50 college presidents who have exercised leadership in character development. In 2013, he earned the Foundation Fighting Blindness’ Visionary Award.
On May 5, 2011, President Gayle D. Beebe honored Winter and former president Stan Gaede at the dedication of David K. Winter Hall for Science and Mathematics. A bronze statue outside the building depicts Winter walking with wife, Helene. For the past 14 years, 10 Westmont students receive the David K. Winter Character Through Servant Leadership Award for exemplary leadership through service at the college and in the community. The building and award pay tribute to Winter’s commitment to the liberal arts, his strong faith and his servant’s heart.
David is survived by his wife, Helene, and his three children, Laura Winter, Bruce Winter, and Frankie Winter and her two sons, and Helene’s children, Steve Kamm and his four children, Jeremy Kamm and his two children, and Stacey Smith and her two children.