Ted Wenta (right) in 2013. (Jennifer Buchanan / Herald file)

Ted Wenta (right) in 2013. (Jennifer Buchanan / Herald file)

What Ted Wenta taught Snohomish County about leadership

A colleague recalls what she learned from the late YMCA executive and former Everett School Board member.

A note from Kathy Coffey, Leadership Snohomish County executive director: As you may already know, our beloved friend and community leader, Ted Wenta, recently passed away from cancer. Ted was an LSC Signature Class alumnus (Class of 1999) and LSC board president beginning in 2005. I had the privilege of working with Ted to get the consent of Ted and his wife, Teresa, to form an LSC scholarship in his memory. It will be awarded starting with the Class of 2020. His desired criteria for the award include:

• An individual that supports the work of the YMCA.

• An individual who is engaged in the community.

• Someone who has demonstrated resilience.

If you’d like to make a donation in Ted’s memory, you may give securely online.

As board president, Ted had the vision to see that LSC needed an executive director and was personally responsible for bringing in Sarri Gilman as the first to hold the position. Sarri wanted to share her reflections on Ted’s leadership and the lessons she learned. In this month’s column, we share her beautiful tribute.


What I learned from my friend Ted about leadership

By Sarri Gilman

My friend Ted Wenta died after a tough battle with cancer. He was a husband, father, friend to many and community leader. He leaves a legacy of gifts to all of us.

Ted was an alumnus of Leadership Snohomish County, and he was also an LSC board president. He held the organization together when it was near collapse and recruited me to serve as its first executive director.

I took the job because Ted, my friend, asked me to. It was that simple. I loved the people-development aspect of LSC, developing leaders for a lifetime. Ted loved the community building aspect. LSC continues to thrive today under the leadership of Kathy Coffey.

Ted and I were friends long before I took the LSC job; we did lots of community building together over the years. And our friendship continued long after. When I broke my hip five months ago and was in a hospital in Florida, Ted called me each week. He continued to call me every week after I got home to Washington.

Let’s remember, he was the one who was dying from cancer.

Leadership Snohomish County will continue to carry Ted’s lessons forward. I wanted to write about what I learned from him as a way of holding the hand of my friend, one more time. I could share lots of stories about each of these lessons. But if I started writing all those stories, it would be a book. So here is what he would call “The Top Level View.”

10 leadership lessons I learned from my friend Ted Wenta

1. If you want to make a difference, make a friend. Get to know people personally. Take the time to make true relationships. You can only build a community with people you trust and people who trust you. These relationships take time and won’t happen instantly. Friend-making can only be done slowly, with care, and over time.

2. Listen to what is calling you from your heart, what bothers you, what troubles you about the community, and go there. You may not know how to fix it or what to do, but go and work for the things that concern you.

3. Cultivate your faith. You have to believe in something. A lot of the positive change that happens in a community happens because we have faith that things can be made better. Sometimes, faith is all we have. And faith is enough.

4. Ask for help. Let others teach you something. We can’t do anything alone. Period. Full stop. You have to be willing to ask for help and to give help. Help is a two-way street. You can’t just be a help- giver without also being a help-receiver. When was the last time you asked for help?

5. Be the kind of team player who can play more than one position on the baseball team. You are not always needed by the team as “the leader.” Sometimes you need to catch. Sometimes you need to be in the outfield. Figure out where you are needed and be willing to play different positions. And no matter how good you become at one particular position, don’t get stuck there.

6. Know the strengths and abilities of those around you and use the gifts and strengths you see in them. Take time to honor what you see in others. We can only grow as a community if we acknowledge and use each other’s true talents. Ted had a way of seeing my gifts and putting those to work.

7. Take risks. Don’t be afraid of getting into some messy stuff. Get out of your comfort zone and live there. Years ago, when the Everett School Board was experiencing strife and story after story appeared in the newspaper, Ted decided he would run for school board. He wanted the school board to focus on the mission and larger purpose. All organizations go through challenging times. When facing a challenge, Ted rolled up his sleeves.

8. Work hard, and play harder. Know when to stop pushing and start playing. Be sure every day has some fun in it. Eat your lunch. Go on vacations. Make date nights special. See your friends. Ted was the first one to hit the recess bell. Have fun while doing good. I watched him jump on stage in Atlanta and lead a whole bar in his version of “Mustang Sally.”

9. Be a community builder. Never ever give up on your vision for making your community better. Ted did nearly everything as part of a team. He was not a solo player at anything. Don’t just talk about community — be a community. I am still thinking about what I learned from Ted regarding this.

10. Always leave things better than how you found them. Never leave a mess behind you. Leave things that will continue to bloom after you are gone. The YMCA of Snohomish County will open a new building in Everett. Ted worked 20 years to make this happen.

Carry on, friends.

If you’d like to make a donation in Ted’s memory, you may give securely online. Please take a moment to read the Herald’s lovely piece about our friend Ted, too.

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