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Ralph Theodore Leber ’44

Having led a life of achievement and adventure, Ted passed away at the age of 94. Living life to the fullest, he spent every waking minute pursuing his wide-ranging interests. Born in Seattle, Ted spent his early years in Riverside, Washington, immersed in the rugged and self-sufficient life of the West, which he loved. His early years were spent on horseback, and in the great outdoors as a mountaineer, as a ski instructor at Sun Valley, and on the baseball field, where “Dutch” Leber was a star pitcher for Roosevelt High School. Summers were spent climbing the tallest mountains in the state or serving as fire lookout and fire fighter for the Forest Service. On one of his many ascents of Mt. Rainier, he met Ann Elise Ellsworth; he married her in 1943 and celebrated 72 years of marriage a few months before his passing.

Ted started college at the University of Washington, but was unimpressed with the level of mathematics. While skiing in Sun Valley, he met the daughter of a Princeton professor who said he should look into either Stanford or Reed. Ted’s father hated California so he went to Reed, arriving as a sophomore. Two of his brothers, Bruce and Lewis, also attended Reed, as did their wives.

During World War II Ted served in the Army Air Corps/Air Forces and was stationed throughout the U.S. as a flight instructor for fighter pilots. As time permitted, he took courses near his airbases, attending eight colleges and universities in Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin, and Texas. Due to wartime transfers he never obtained a college degree, but he always placed a high value on lifelong education. “Reed was head and shoulders above any other school,” he said. “It opened my horizons and was the best—hands down!”

After the war, Ted continued recreational flying, and during one of his flights spotted a small farm near the summit of Cougar Mountain, outside of Issaquah, Washington. He and Ann purchased the farm, which had been homesteaded by a Swedish family, and which still lacked modern conveniences. There they raised milk cows, sheep, ducks, chickens, geese, dogs, cats, and five children.

During this time, Ted worked at the Ralph Leber Printing Ink Company and eventually became its president. In 1956, he joined with nine others to form Associated Vintners, the first premium varietal winery in Washington State. Ted helped plant AV’s first vineyard in Sunnyside, Washington, and served as vineyard manager for the next 20 years. Not only did he pioneer fine wine production and appreciation, he also collaborated with Seattle restaurateur François Kissel (Maximilien’s and Brasserie Pittsbourg) to pair fine wine with fine cuisine. Later he teamed with the Evergreen Trailways bus company to design and run wine-themed tours of state wineries, launching agritourism in the Northwest.

After retiring, Ted cofounded a company that made furniture components out of alder, a locally abundant wood. He was active in his church, Elderhostel, and supported a wide variety of environmental, cultural, and disaster-relief causes. He took up distance running, successfully competing in triathlons, and became a practitioner on matters of health, fitness, and nutrition.

With his retirement, he and Ann began exploring the world and had a particular fondness for France, where they would rent homes for extended stays with the family in the Alps or in Burgundy. Just shy of his 90th birthday, he returned to his love of sailing by crossing the Atlantic on a tall ship.

He and Ann moved to Ellensburg 16 years ago, and rather than sell the old farm, they made the land and the house available for educational purposes. Today it houses the Open Window School, which honors Ted and Ann with its Leber Library.

Ted is survived by his wife, Ann; his children, Ralph Eric ’72, Christie Ann Linnel, Laurie Elise, Tia Marie, and Mark; grandchildren, Laura, Anna, Christopher, Jessie, Anelise, Britta, Marianne, and Daniel; and great-grandchildren, Alex and Ryan.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2016

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