A Guiding Light Goes Out

Courtesy Stnaford News Service

Donald Winbigler was a man who turned lives around. "Tell Dr. Winbigler I still recollect his bringing me cookies and apricot jams and shirts, urging me to dare to work hard and that I could make it at Stanford," wrote one former protégé in a letter read at Winbigler's 1974 retirement dinner. The student, Ekanem Nkamara, had come to Stanford from Africa in 1954 but quickly flunked out. Winbigler, dean of students, readmitted Nkamara to summer school and offered the steady encouragement he needed to earn his degree. "His wise counsel," wrote Nkamara, '58, MA '59, "is still guiding me."

Winbigler, a Stanford senior administrator for 29 years, died of cancer on August 5 in Bothell, Wash., at 91. A campus icon in the '50s and '60s, he was known as an exceptionally caring dean. "Even the kids he disciplined, he liked," recalls his son, Myles, '68, of Bellevue, Wash.

Winbigler came to the Farm in 1940 as an assistant professor of speech and drama after earning his doctorate from the University of Iowa. Five years later, he became registrar, a role comparable to today's provost. Named dean of students in 1950, he held that post through the tremendous postwar growth period that doubled Stanford's enrollment. He left the deanship in 1967 to become academic secretary, then retired seven years later. But even in his later years, Winbigler remained active in University life, volunteering as secretary of the Faculty Club and president of the Stanford Historical Society. In 1991, he helped organize Stanford's centennial celebration, having led a similar commemoration one-half century earlier. Last year, he established the H. Donald and Mary Elizabeth Winbigler Scholarship Fund for undergraduates. "Devotion to Stanford was part of what he was," his son says.

Students--in particular those he disciplined--remember Winbigler fondly, and his amiability is legendary. In 1961, Chaparral editor Brad Efron (now chair of statistics) published a Playboy parody so controversial that Winbigler had to suspend him for four months--but Efron, MS '62, PhD '64, went on the dean's Christmas-card list for the next 20 years. Bill Kartozian, '60, a yell leader whose irreverent antics angered older alumni, tells of another friendship that grew from Winbigler's reprimands: "I saw him every Monday morning after football games; it got to be a ritual. He was in a difficult position because alumni often threatened to stop donating because of me, but he knew I wasn't trying to disrupt the spirit of the school. He even wrote me recommendation letters for law school, and sent them to me with big cigars in the envelopes."

Winbigler's wife, Mary Elizabeth, died in 1998. His survivors include Myles and his wife, Retta; a brother; and a sister.