Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Winter’s life, colorful career remembered

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 5/6/2013

He was called “larger than life” by those who knew him well.

Lawyer, politician, banker, rancher, entrepreneur, college athlete and pilot, Winton Allen Winter Sr., 82, died Saturday at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Lawrence from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

He was called “larger than life” by those who knew him well.

Lawyer, politician, banker, rancher, entrepreneur, college athlete and pilot, Winton Allen Winter Sr., 82, died Saturday at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Lawrence from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Wint,” as he was more popularly known, was born Aug. 20, 1930, in Topeka, the son of Shipman “Ship” Winter Sr. and Faye Winter. The longtime Ottawa resident was considered one of the modern legends of Franklin County, friends and business associates said.

Ottawa attorney Bob Green, a longtime friend and colleague, said Winter had been hospitalized after falling and breaking a hip April 29.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the family at this time,” Green, who went to work in Winter’s law firm in fall 1967, said. “Wint was absolutely one of most important mentors in my life.”

Winter attended Lawrence public schools and the University of Kansas, where he was a member of Beta Theta Pi, the KU football team and the Naval ROTC. In 1952, he married Nancy Mae Morsbach, of Wichita, after graduating with a business degree. They remained married until his death.

 The Winters moved to Ottawa in 1958 when he joined the law office of Basil W. Kelsey at 109 W. Second St., which later became known as Kelsey and Winter. Winter soon became a judge in Franklin County District Court, which made him the youngest judge in Kansas history, family members said. In the 1960s, Winter served the American Bar Association as chairman of its Young Lawyers Section.

“His strengths were many, but one of them was his ability to persevere through difficult court cases to reach a settlement — he was a bulldog in that regard,” Green said. “He was a very skilled negotiator. He could be very persuasive.”

Winter’s negotiating skills served him well in the state Senate, Green, who worked on Winter’s 1968 Senate campaign, said.

“He was good on the Senate floor, but he also was very good at one-to-one negotiations,” Green said.

Winter was elected to the Kansas Senate in 1968, serving Franklin, Douglas, Anderson, Osage and Miami counties until 1980. He chaired both the Judiciary Committee and the Ways and Means Committee.

As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee for eight years, Winter was instrumental in increasing spending for Kansas’ public and higher education systems, Dan Winter said.

“Dad said education was the key component to a more meaningful and comfortable life,” he said. “He was responsible for some very big funding for education.”

One of Winter’s early legislative victories was a bill creating the Living Will. He also “advanced the issues of prison reform, social services, reproductive choice, rural medical care, capital punishment, mental health and more prosaic topics such as the bill allowing Kansas drivers to turn right on red,” Dan Winter wrote about his father.

“He was looking out for the underdog a lot of the time,” he said. “If you look at his legislation, it often had to do with people in trouble, children’s issues and children from impoverished backgrounds. He was a proponent of social services, which I guess made him an unusual Republican in that way.”

Dan Winter said the best piece of advice his father ever gave him could be summed up in one word: “Listen.”

“I think his innate curiosity about people and hearing about their concerns and interests helped him craft legislation that he was almost always successful [in getting passed],” Dan Winter said. “He was a skilled negotiator.”

A leader in Kansas politics for more than a decade, Winter was tabbed a frontrunner for the governorship by the media, but he opted not to seek the nomination because his good friend Bob Bennett was running, Dan Winter said. Robert Bennett went on to serve as the Sunflower State’s governor from 1975 to 1979.

Green said Winter helped mentor him in the practical aspects of a law practice. Winter transferred the law practice — started in 1869 by Judge Arthur Benson, a Civil War veteran — to Green in 1973. The Ottawa firm, now known as Green, Finch & Covington, is the oldest law firm in Kansas, Green said.

Winter became interested in banking law, and in the early 1970s, he purchased some stock in Franklin Savings Association of Ottawa, Green said. That stock was sold, and Winter, along with his friend Ransom Bennett Jr., purchased the controlling interest in Peoples National Bank and Trust of Ottawa, according to news accounts. He left the law practice in 1973 to devote more time to banking, Green said.

Winter, who served as chairman of Peoples Inc., had numerous other business interests.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Winter operated ranches in the Kansas Flint Hills and, later, near Williamsburg, Dan Winter said. The family said Winter also had interests in real estate, nursery production, oil production, restaurants and community banking in Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Mississippi, Nebraska and other states. During the 1970s and 1980s, he co-owned one of the largest Pizza Hut franchises in the United States.

Peoples National Bank of Ottawa grew into a multi-state, community banking business.

Wayne Duderstadt, community president of Peoples in Ottawa, started with the bank in 1978 and said he got to know Winter well through the years.

“I was a student at Ottawa University, and I went to work for Wint right out of college,” Duderstadt said. “What I appreciated about Wint was that he was so down to earth. He had a great passion for life.”

Winter and Duderstadt traveled together to Peoples bank sites in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, Duderstadt said. When the trips required an overnight stay, they would get a hotel room, and Duderstadt said Winter would always flip a coin for the bed, making sure Duderstadt always got the bed and Winter slept on the floor.

“I would wake up early in the morning, and he would already be doing push-ups and sit-ups,” Duderstadt said. “Not long after we bought a bank in Louisburg, Wint called me to say he wanted to go over there on a Saturday morning to the bank. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll ride along. What time are we leaving?’ He said, ‘6 a.m.’ When I asked him why so early, he said he wanted to ride bikes over to the bank — 32 miles to Louisburg.

“Well, it was raining that day, and Wint said, ‘Dude, we’re not going to be able to ride our bikes over in this rain.’ I said, ‘Ah, Wint, that’s terrible. It’s a shame we’re going to miss doing that,’” Duderstadt said, laughing. “Wint had fun in everything he did. He was great at making people feel at ease around him and good about themselves — he was larger than life that way.”

Duderstadt said Winter taught him a lot about how to treat people.

“I remember I was a kid just out of college, and Wint met my parents and told them he worked with me — instead of saying that I worked for him,” Duderstadt said. “That’s the kind of person he was.”

Athletics played a large role in Winter’s life. He lettered in three sports at Liberty Memorial (now Lawrence) High School and for three years as a Kansas Jayhawk, Dan Winter said.

“He spent a lot of time in the 70s and 80s as a big fan of the Ottawa High Cyclones,” Winter wrote about his father. “But it was his 30-year membership in the KU Rugby Football Club and his Ottawa University ‘dawn ball’ group that are the highlights of the mature phase of his athletic career, which was studded with more than the usual attention from disapproving referees. Wint’s hands and body were not necessarily more quick or sure than others’, but he often used them in a more inventive and determined manner.”

An avid KU supporter, Winter told his children he would help them with college expenses as long as they didn’t attend the University of Missouri because Missouri buried Quantrill with honors after he and his raiders sacked Lawrence during the Civil War, Dan Winter said.

“All five of his children graduated from KU,” Winter said with a chuckle.

 A memorial service for Winter is planned for 2 p.m. Thursday at Fredrikson Chapel on the campus of Ottawa University, 1001 S. Cedar St., Ottawa, with a reception to follow. Read the full obituary on Page 2 of today’s Herald.

“He loved Ottawa, Kan., and said he was so lucky to live and raise his kids there,” Dan Winter said. “As a lawyer and a judge, politician, banker and parent, he always felt supported by the community of Ottawa. He said it was a great place to live.”

Winter said his father never was interested in social standing, and Duderstadt and Green both said they wished more people would have had the opportunity to get to know Winter, who they described as being down to earth.

“He had a larger-than-life personality,” Green said of his old friend. “He could talk with anyone, whether it was the governor or whether it was a blue-collar worker. He could meet anyone and make them feel at ease with him.”

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