EVERETT — On a festive evening a week ago, when nearly a quarter million dollars in scholarships were given away to promising high school seniors, the loudest ovation — one that lasted minutes — wasn’t for a student.
It belonged to Ted Wenta, a former Everett School Board member who’s best known for his devotion to Snohomish County’s YMCA, where he was senior vice president of operations and executive director of the Everett branch. The local Rotarians presenting the scholarships knew him well. He was one of them, and they’d long witnessed his commitment to the community.
Wenta spent 32 years working for the YMCA, mostly in Snohomish County, and he was a catalyst behind a new $33.5 million Everett Y that is now under construction at 4730 Colby Ave. The sprawling complex is expected to open in December.
Wenta, 55, could not be at the banquet to soak in the tribute. He was at home and in hospice care. His battle with kidney cancer, first diagnosed in 2016, was nearing its end. He died Monday with family by his side.
“Each time I visit the new Y site on Colby, I am reminded of his 20-year vision to build a YMCA that will serve the community for the next 100 years,” wrote Scott Washburn, president and CEO of the Snohomish County YMCA, in a message to fellow employees and Wenta’s friends. “That vision will be a reality in a few short months and will stand as a legacy to Ted’s Y career.”
On the second floor of the new Y will be a reflection chapel dedicated to Wenta’s memory. It will be a quiet place for individuals and small groups who are trying to make a difference.
For those who knew him, it will be a special spot to find inspiration, said Kelly Shepherd, who came to know Wenta through her role as Sequoia High School principal and as a member of Rotary and the YMCA board of directors.
“Some of the comments I’ve heard, they say they can go talk to Ted by sitting in the room,” she said. “He is that sort of counselor you can look to and look up to and say, ‘I’m going to go have coffee with Ted.’”
Wenta began working for the YMCA in 1987 as program director for the Crescenta Cañada Y in Southern California, where he went to camp as a child and served as a counselor. He later worked at two other YMCAs in California before becoming executive director of the Everett branch where he spent the next 24 years.
His co-workers described him as confident, forward-looking and community-minded. He also was a meticulous dresser and creature of habit.
“His idea of casual Friday was gray socks instead of black,” Washburn said.
Wenta could be found at Terracotta Red in downtown Everett at the same table, eating the same beef dish, on the same day, at the same time each week. Restaurant workers didn’t bother taking his order. They knew what he wanted.
Meetings Wenta would run would start on time and end on time. Deadlines were deadlines. There was no such thing as being absent.
Wenta, a member of Bethany Christian Assembly, was carried by his faith in God, he told a reporter after his diagnosis.
That faith and his demeanor helped co-workers cope as his health declined, Washburn said Tuesday. Wenta would still trudge in to work, determined to keep the new building on track. He took a tour of its interior less than two weeks before he died.
Wenta is survived by his wife, Teresa, and their children. Memorial plans are pending.
He was elected to the Everett School Board in 2013, stepping down in 2018.
School district Superintendent Gary Cohn said Wenta played a key role in the passing of a 2016 technology levy that will provide a laptop or tablet to every student by 2021. He also championed a Rotary Club of Everett Next Generation AVID scholarship program that raised money for first-time college goers.
“The force of his care for kids will endure for generations,” Cohn said.
Shepherd said Wenta instilled confidence in those around him, no matter their background, herself included.
“Ted had an amazing ability to see in people maybe what they didn’t see in themselves,” she said. “He inspired me to do things I didn’t think I could do.”
She takes heart in the knowledge that Wenta signed the steel beam that was placed atop the new Everett Y.
“People talk about T-Mobile Park and say, ‘That’s the field that (Ken) Griffey built,’” she said. “The Everett Y is the building Ted built, but he’d be the first person to say: ‘It wasn’t just me.’”