PAA Remembers Mrs. Winter

August 18, 2017 | Liesl Vistaunet

Thelma Winter, Portland Adventist Academy (PAA, formerly Portland Union Academy/PUA) teacher for 31 years and a pillar in Adventist education, passed away peacefully on July 6, 2017, just shy of her 102nd birthday.

Over her 50-year career, Winter taught Spanish, English, advanced placement English, history and Bible and was a school librarian. After a short retirement in 1981, she returned to the classroom for another 20 years, stopping at PAA and Emerald Junior Academy in Oregon and at Bakersfield Adventist Academy and Newberry Park Academy in California.

Winter kept her professional tools sharp. She modified her teaching styles as new educational discoveries came to light. She was also intuitive. Winter recognized potential in students who struggled, and she discovered techniques that helped them succeed.

One such student was Terry Johnsson, who shared the eulogy at Winter’s memorial service. Johnsson struggled with severe dyslexia long before learning disabilities were understood. Before his arrival at PAA, some teachers suggested he drop out. “But Mrs. Winter was a teacher with a capital T,” he said. “She met with me after school every day to get me to my graduation.”

Johnsson later earned two college degrees from Oakwood University in Alabama, a graduate degree from California's La Sierra University and a doctoral degree from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. “Thelma Winter saw potential in me when no one else did,” he said.

That same tenacity for her students’ potential could be seen in other corners of Winter’s life. Even at 101, she claimed she never felt old. She began jogging at age 50 and didn’t stop until she was 96. She stayed “young” by surrounding herself with young people. Even in her latest years, she insisted on daily time with teens at Newbury Park Academy, where students and staff affectionately called her “grandma.”

Winter’s memorial service was an inspirational reminder of the precious relationships that develop through Adventist education. When former students were asked to stand, nearly three-quarters of the congregation rose to their feet. Many of those still seated were former colleagues.

In 2012 Winter wrote, “I won’t live long enough to write all the fond memories I have of PUA and PAA. … I have loved all the precious people I have taught.”

No doubt about it, Mrs. Winter loved them as she followed her life’s purpose. She introduced her students to a rigorous education, but, most importantly, she introduced them to Jesus.

You can read Winter’s PUA and PAA memories, read an original poem, see pictures on Facebook's photo album, read her life sketch and share your own memories at