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Don Winbigler, former dean of students, dies at 91

H. Donald Winbigler, who served as registrar and dean of students during a 34-year career at Stanford, died of cancer on Aug. 5 in Bothell, Wash.

Born on June 3, 1909, Winbigler earned a Ph.D. in speech and drama from the University of Iowa.

He joined the Stanford faculty as an assistant professor of speech and drama in 1940, receiving a full professorship in 1949, but spent most of his career as an administrator.

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Winbigler was appointed university registrar in 1945 – a position he held until 1950 when he was named dean of students.

“Winbigler met the demands of deanship with boundless sympathy, good humor and unflappable composure,” recalled former Stanford colleague Fred Glover in a 1992 tribute.

“His nerves stood the test of panty raids, student pranks, a strip teaser who almost won the presidency of the student body, skirmishes with fraternities and other living groups and with Chaparral, the student humor magazine,” wrote Glover.

The latter incident occurred in 1961, when Chaparral published a parody of Playboy magazine. Winbigler suspended the magazine and its student editor, Bradley Efron, for four months, sparking a debate about campus censorship. Ironically, Efron became an assistant professor of statistics at Stanford five years later. He served as chairman of the Faculty Senate in 1998-99.

“In my mind, Don really did represent the spirit of Stanford,” says Bill Kartozian, a 1960 alum.

The student body elected Kartozian to the position of Head Yell Leader at football games for the Autumn Quarter of 1959.

“I was rather irreverent,” he recalls, “and while the students loved my character, many alumni and trustees did not. Every Monday morning after a game I'd be called into the dean's office for a `conversation' about my performance.”

As time went on, the two became such good friends that Winbigler even agreed to write letters of recommendation for Kartozian who had applied to several law schools.

“Every time he sent me a letter, he'd send a big cigar with each one,” Kartozian remembers. “He was a witty, intelligent man who helped guide Stanford through its middle years.”

Winbigler remained dean of students during the turbulent 1960s, although he once told a reporter that the big anti-Vietnam War demonstrations on campus “were all mercifully after my tenure as dean.”

“Pop had quite a sense of humor,” recalls his son, Myles, a resident of Washington State. One of his father's favorite pastimes was keeping a list of the dozens of ways his name had been misspelled – from Winbungled to Hinburgler to Winbaggle.

In 1967 he became academic secretary to the university, where he helped develop the charter that became the constitution for the Faculty Senate. He held that position until his retirement from Stanford in 1974.

Friends and family recall Winbigler as a compassionate man who often went out of his way to help troubled students, especially in times of tragedy.

“He was a very kind person who handled students with great care,” notes Bill Alhouse, a 1951 graduate who also worked as an assistant baseball coach at Stanford from 1950 to 1967.

During Winbigler's 1974 retirement dinner, a colleague read aloud a letter from Chief Ekanem U.U. Nkamara, an African student who flunked out of Stanford shortly after his arrival in 1954. Winbigler later re-admitted Nkamara to Stanford summer school, where he earned three B's and went on to receive both bachelor's and master's degrees.

“I shall never forget the joy in Dean Winbigler's voice and his hearty laugh when he called me back to break the news [about the grades],” wrote Nkamara. “It was a father's satisfaction and happiness, and not that of a white academic adviser to a black boy from Africa.

“His love and friendship transcended color and nationality,” Nkamara added. “It was universal and human.

“Tell Dr. Winbigler that I still recollect his bringing me cookies and apricot jams and shirts, urging me to dare to work hard, and that I could make Stanford.

“Tell him that he wiped my tears in my financial and other crises, and urged me to become the proud Stanford graduate I am today.

“Tell him that, as my mentor, his wise counsel is still guiding me, and that his life at Stanford was not in vain, and that America needs more H. Donald Winbiglers today.”

Winbigler witnessed many changes during his long career at the university.

“Stanford had a reputation, deserved or undeserved, of being a kind of country club,” he told a reporter, but that changed immediately after World War II when an influx of veterans increased Stanford's student body from 2,500 to 5,000 in just a few months.

“When you double in size, you forfeit something in terms of intimacy,” Winbigler commented, noting that the rapid addition of new faculty and staff had the overall positive effect of revitalizing the university's academic programs.

Winbigler never lost his affection for Stanford. He served as secretary of the Stanford Faculty Club for five years and as president of the Stanford Historical Society from 1980-81. He was active in organizing the university's 50th anniversary celebration in 1941, and participated in the Stanford Centennial in 1991.

Last year, Winbigler established the H. Donald and Mary Elizabeth Winbigler Scholarship Fund to help undergraduate students at Stanford. He created the fund in memory of Mary Elizabeth, his wife of 61 years, who died in 1998.

A resident of Los Altos Hills, Calif., for 51 years, Winbigler served as a trustee of the Los Altos Foundation, president of the Palo Alto YMCA, president of the Palo Alto Kiwanis Club and was a member of the Fellowship Forum.

He is survived by his son, Myles, and his family; by a brother and two sisters; and by many nieces and nephews.

Winbigler will be buried next to his wife at a cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio, during a private family funeral. A service celebrating his life will be held at Stanford's Memorial Church on Thurs., Sept. 7, at 3:30 p.m.

Those wishing to make donations in the name of H. Donald Winbigler can do so to the charity of their choice.


By Mark Shwartz

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