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Longtime Utah homeless advocate remembered for compassion

Published March 13, 2012 7:25 am

Obituary • Dick Winters oversaw Utah Food Bank and other aid programs.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Overnight temperatures had dipped to 5 degrees below zero, and Dick Winters was worried about the men who had slept outside.

Lloyd Pendleton remembers that by the time he arrived for work at the Community Services Council, Winters was already there. In fact, he'd gotten out of bed at 2 a.m., dressed and made the rounds of various homeless camps to make sure his homeless friends were safe.

"He had very strong commitment and compassion for those who were homeless and in need," Pendleton said. "He just had a tender heart."

It is a sentiment shared by many others who worked with Winters, who died Thursday at age 80.

In 1988, Lowell Bennion picked Winters as his replacement at the Community Services Council, which oversaw a health care and literacy training program in Africa and five Utah aid programs — including the Utah Food Bank. Winters later admitted being overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to take over for his friend and mentor, telling a reporter, "You'd need a step ladder to see over the edge of those shoes."

Winters filled them just fine during his 13 years as executive director at the Community Services Council.

Pamela Atkinson, an advocate for the homeless, met Winters in the 1990s and the two started a homeless outreach program. Once a week, they'd climb in Winters' pickup truck and travel the valley to bring food, blankets, sleeping bags and hygiene kits to Utahns sleeping on the streets and in camps.

"I will never, ever forget Dick and his willingness to drive his pickup truck in all weather and all terrain," she said. "We would get stuck in mud sometimes in bad weather, but he never let bad weather deter us from going out on Thursdays."

In 1995, Volunteers of America, Utah took over the outreach program and Winters concentrated on the Utah Food Bank, Atkinson said.

Atkinson said Winters' faith — he was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — shaped his sense of responsibility for others' well-being.

"He recognized the tremendous needs in our community," she said. "He didn't just talk about them — he acted. He was a tremendous soul. He really cared about people. He was dearly loved by many of us who worked with him over the years."

Winters learned at a young age to have compassion for others. As a boy during the Great Depression, Winters used to pack bushel baskets with groceries with his grandmother for needy people in their neighborhood, said Katherine Stallings, his oldest daughter.

Later, during his years at the council, Winters sometimes brought people he met on the street to his home so they could shower and pick up some clean clothes donated by his own family. One time, it was a pregnant girl who needed to see a doctor but was too embarrassed to go because she hadn't bathed for some time.

"Anything went with my dad," Stallings said. "He saw that all his life — you share and you serve others, look for a need and try to take care of that need."

Memorial services will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Evergreen LDS Ward, 2125 E. Evergreen Ave. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Utah Food Bank.

brooke@sltrib.com