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'Don't you take my hammer' - Remembering the courageous, inspiring life of Teri Winter

Sault College professor's ideal classroom was outdoors in nature
teri-winter-pic
Teri loved the outdoors and made it her life’s work to educate and inspire others through appreciation and understanding of nature.

Teri Winter’s spirit moves like a breeze through the forest. It makes waves on the water.

You can see it in the heavens, much like the time Winter and her daughter Jordan got up very early before sunrise to get in a boat on Lake Huron and view an eclipse.

“I have a lot of really good memories in the boat, out in the forest. It inspired me to pursue the natural environment as a career,” said daughter Jordan, who completed her bachelor of biology and is looking to get a masters degree.

Teri Winter, a former professor of environment and wildlife studies at Sault College, died Sunday Nov. 28 at the age of 48 after a courageous and fulfilling life. Her beloved dog Aspen was by her side.

“Teri loved the outdoors and made it her life’s work to educate and inspire others through appreciation and understanding of nature,” says her obituary. “She was an enthusiastic fisherwoman and was happiest and most peaceful out on the water. A dedicated teacher who helped foster the next generation of naturalists, Teri loved the spark in the eyes of children as they discovered something new in the world.”

Sherri Smith, chair of the department of natural environment, business and culinary studies at the college, said Winter’s passion and work ethic were her two greatest attributes.

“You could always count on her to teach many things because she had such a wide range of expertise,” said Smith.

She was also a renaissance woman on her 150-acre Desbarats farm.

“We did bees and we planted a berry orchard and we grew teas and raised chickens,” said Jordan.

Jordan said her mom rode the tractor, fixed the tractor and spent a lot of time in the garage.

Together, they founded the Youth Algoma Poultry Association which taught kids how to raise poultry and learn about science.

“It would turn into lessons about genetics and lessons about health,” said Jordan. “It was hands on. It was an experience for everyone involved.”  

Smith said Winter excelled most at the college when she wasn’t in the building. 

Her ideal classroom was outdoors on field trips, working hand-in-hand with students.

One of her most noteworthy projects was the deer check where hunters on St. Joe’s Island would voluntarily get their deer inspected. It helped ascertain the health and number of deer in the area. It was a practical lesson that meant a lot to students and the community.

Community was important to Winter, who was once very active in the YMCA.

“She was on all of our committees for our small town. She’d organize tonnes of events,” said daughter Miki (Mikayla) Winter.

Her determination is more remarkable considering the physical pain she faced. Winter had a serious cardiac condition and had a heart transplant in 2017.

“She was so unbelievably determined and no matter what challenge was put in front of her she would always face it. She made the most out of every day. She was always giving to people,” said Jordan.

Her mother’s physical challenges were a source of inspiration for 18-year-old Miki, who is taking a 911 emergency communications course through Seneca College.

“I did it online so I could be here with my mom and take care of her,” said Miki. “There’s been times when my sister and I have had to call the ambulance and you have to do CPR and things like that. It inspired me to try and become an EMD at the hospital. That’s what my goal is.”

Smith said a measure of Winter’s impact is the number of students who have reached back to say how she changed their lives or the direction of their lives.

That’s exactly what is happening right now, said Smith. 

The college graduates approximately 250 students every year from the program and 85 per cent of them are from outside the Algoma district.

The list of graduates includes park wardens, MNR employees, department of fisheries and oceans workers as well as environmental monitors, to name but a few.

“She had a very far reach,” said Smith. “That’s the power and preciousness of teaching.”

Her children felt the power of Winter’s parenting.

“She made us strong women,” said Jordan, who recalled that one of mom’s favourite sayings was: “Don’t you take my hammer. Don’t you touch my hammer.”

Teri would often volunteer herself for research hoping that one day others wouldn’t have to go through what she had to endure. 

If you wish to make a financial contribution in her name donate to The University Health Network at www.uhnfoundation.ca or to the Heart and Stroke Foundation at www.heartandstroke.ca 

The family and college are both remembering her quietly. When the weather gets warmer and COVID eases, the kids plan a bigger memorial.

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Frank Rupnik

About the Author: Frank Rupnik

Frank Rupnik is Community Editor of SooToday. Frank is a veteran writer and editor who has worked at daily newspapers across Ontario for more than 30 years
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