Barbara Woodhead Winder: A Gift of Loving


’Tis the gift to be loving; ’tis the best gift of all,
Like the quiet rain it blesses where it falls;
And if we have the gift, we will truly believe
’Tis better to give than it is to receive.

(From “Simple Gifts,” an early American song.)

Barbara Woodhead Winder is a woman amply blessed with “simple gifts”—a generous heart, a durable faith, and a deep goodness. Her gifts do not dazzle; they warm.

Sister Winder herself tends to underestimate the value of her gifts. But those who have felt her warming influence do not doubt that hers are indeed the best of gifts. Soon after she was called as Relief Society general president in April 1984, evidence of her wide influence began to pour in. “We’re so pleased at your calling,” read many letters from friends and acquaintances from near and far. “We feel so close to you.”

The affinity so many women feel with Sister Winder may spring partly from shared experiences. Like many, Barbara Winder grew up in a simple setting. When she was in the fourth grade, her parents, Willard Verl and Marguerite Woodhead, moved their family to a modest white frame house in what was then the almost-rural East Millcreek area of the Salt Lake Valley. The Woodhead children—Barbara, two younger brothers, and a younger sister—loved the outdoors. They played “Run, Sheepie, Run” in the orchards and weeded the family garden. In the summertime, young Barbara earned her spending money picking raspberries and strawberries for her neighbors.

The post-Depression years were not easy for the Woodheads; Barbara’s mother worked as a waitress for years to help support the family. But, even in these difficult times, Marguerite Woodhead taught her young daughter the art of helping others. Barbara remembers hearing stories of her grandmother Susie Stewart Hand, a Relief Society president who delivered wagonloads of food to widows, a woman who could never turn away any transient who needed a meal. And she watched as her own mother—a nurse by temperament—took in this same grandmother, as well as aunts and uncles, in various times of need.

Young Barbara had other teachers who helped train her gentle heart to feel for the difficulties of others. Sister Winder’s eyes soften as she remembers a second-grade schoolmate, the class bully, coming to school with a safety pin holding together a big three-cornered tear in his pants. Her teacher, Louella Dover, shepherded the boy home, then returned to explain to the class that this boy had no mother at home and only one pair of pants. “I remember her teaching us,” recalls Sister Winder. “And I remember feeling this empathy.

Empathy has become a hallmark of Sister Winder’s life. Her daughter, Susan Tanner, remembers being taught this same lesson on her first day of kindergarten. As Susan clung to her mother, hesitantly surveying the classroom, Barbara Winder immediately noticed a child crying at her desk. “Oh, look at that little girl Go make her happy,” said Sister Winder. “After that,” recalls Susan, “I didn’t worry about being nervous myself. I’ve often thought how right that was, and how typical of Mother.”

Barbara Winder’s life experiences have also made her sensitive to a different kind of heartache. Wonderful as her parents were, they were not active in the Church during Barbara’s growing-up years. They supported her activity, but never took her to church. So it was Barbara’s own faith—and the care of a loving Primary teacher—that took her to Primary every week. She would walk to the old East Millcreek chapel, often taking her younger sister Nancy along. It was her Primary teacher who took her to be baptized.

“When I was around nine or ten,” Sister Winder remembers, “I began to feel the incongruity of the situation. It was only as I grew older that I began to understand my parents and feel at peace with the situation.” When Sister Winder was twenty-five and had four children of her own, her parents studied the gospel anew and were at last sealed to each other and to their children. The faith that compelled her as a child continues to sustain her today. But Sister Winder does not see this faith so much as a hard-won attainment as simply a gift she has always had.

Barbara Winder freely credits many teachers and leaders with helping nurture and refine her faith. By high school, Barbara’s lively smile and sparkling personality had made her popular among her peers. As president of her high school girls’ association, she met Ann Pehrson, an adult adviser who had devoted her life to girls. “She called me in,” recalls Sister Winder, “and asked me to fast and pray with her for girls who were having problems. She really taught me the meaning of fasting and prayer.”

All through high school Barbara worked in an ice-cream parlor near her home. At her father’s encouragement, she learned shorthand and typing to prepare for a career, but her own childhood goal was to marry and have six children. “A college education was beyond my dreams,” she says. Very few of her classmates were planning on college. But her girls’ association adviser kept mentioning college to her. Hardly knowing if she could pay beyond the first two quarters, she took the entrance test and was accepted at the University of Utah.

Not at all confident, she began a home economics major, working part-time as a secretary to support herself. Her father was then teaching engineering on campus, and meeting him for lunch curbed her freshman loneliness. “I always felt I should take advantage of any opportunity,” says Sister Winder, “even when I had no idea how on earth I could do it, even when I felt totally incompetent. A providential hand has always seemed to guide me.”

Near the beginning of her sophomore year, providence took the form of Ned Winder, the Woodhead family’s milkman, whose brother Richard had just returned from a mission. “Ned told me he knew a girl I ought to be taking out,” reminisces Richard Winder, “and he offered to arrange it.” Very quickly Richard discovered in Barbara the values, goals, and intelligence he was looking for in a wife. On their first date they went on a Winder family hayride. Two and a half weeks later, Barbara accepted Richard’s marriage proposal.

The adjustment to married life was not painless for Barbara. The couple’s first home was in a rural area of the valley, and they had no phone. At nineteen, she found the separation from her family somewhat traumatic, though in retrospect sometimes humorous. Now an accomplished cook and avid recipe collector, she remembers her first attempt at making macaroni and cheese. “I didn’t know I was supposed to drain the water off before I added the white sauce,” she laughs.

When her first baby was born just eleven months after her marriage, Barbara became ill and her isolation from family and friends grew more serious. “One day, just after we had brought the baby home,” she recalls, “I had a very high fever. Richard was at work. I had no car, no phone, and I was terrified.” When her visiting teachers happened to drop by, she was just able to get to the door. Seeing how sick she was, they went down the street to call for help. Sister Winder’s understanding that women need to give help—as well as to receive it—has made her the Church’s leading advocate of visiting teaching.

Thirty-four years later, Barbara Winder is very much at home in the almost storybook security of Winder Lane. A profusion of trees—locust, wild plum, maple, elm, and poplar—line this small paved road that leads past family homes to the Winder family dairy and the family bakery. The Winders’ neighbors on the lane are all family. Richard’s parents lived next door. His brothers and sisters raised their children—nineteen in all—on the lane, along with Richard and Barbara’s four. Here Barbara Winder is surrounded by the pleasures of family and the outdoors that she loves best.

Barbara and Richard Winder

Barbara and Richard Winder at their home on “Winder Lane.”

Looking back on their life together, Richard Winder, now a regional representative, attributes his life of Church activity to Barbara. “She’s made all the difference in the world to me,” he reflects. In their early days together, when Richard ran an early morning milk route, he would often come home too tired for church. “If she hadn’t been the strong person she is, with the spirit she has, I might well not have remained active.” His life has been enriched, too, by his wife’s loving nature—uncritical, quick to send the thoughtful note, always willing to reach out to neighbors, friends, and ward members.

Daughter Susan describes her parents’ relationship as one that graciously accommodates differences. Although Sister Winder might prefer to sit on a rock or pick flowers, she has climbed with her husband to several of the mountain peaks near her home. And Susan remembers complaining once to her typically on-time father when her mother was running a few minutes late. She recalls, “Instead of siding with me, he said, ‘Your mother is a wonderful woman.’”

The Winders’ call to the San Diego Mission was a treasured opportunity to work closely together. But it was also a time when Sister Winder learned to be somewhat more independent. Speaking assignments for a mission president’s wife are frequent—as many as three or four in a single day. Sister Winder would often ask her husband to advise her on a topic that might be appropriate. She laughs when she recalls his standard answer. “Because he was so pressed himself, he would always say, ‘Use your own judgment.’ I think making so many decisions on my own was good preparation for my present calling.”

The missionaries from the San Diego Mission saw Sister Winder as a loving woman, one concerned about them, one they could always approach. Sister Garnett Cooper remembers her personal touch when she would come to visit the missionaries and leave a home-baked treat. Richard Winder wryly remembers the way he and his wife were often introduced at zone conferences: “First we’ll hear from Sister Winder, the inspiration of the mission; then we’ll hear President Winder’s instructions.”

The mission was a time of digging deeper into the scriptures, of becoming thoroughly familiar with them. It was the mission experience, too, that gave Sister Winder the perspective she needs to deal with the constant demands of her current calling. She remembers one particularly frustrating day when she and her husband were scheduled to host fifty missionaries at dinner. She had been up late with mission responsibilities several nights in a row and now had no time to prepare her talk. Knowing how much the missionaries depended on her for spiritual rejuvenation, she found a quiet corner in the dining room. As she pleaded for help, she heard a voice say, “Sister Winder, this is not your time; this is the Lord’s time.”

“From that experience,” she explains, “I knew the Lord would bless me. No matter how I felt physically, no matter what had to be done, I knew he would be with me.”

Richard Winder has seen in his wife the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise that all things are possible to those who believe. (See Mark 9:23.) As a young mother with no musical training, Barbara Winder was called as ward chorister. She found someone to teach her, learned to feel the beat of the music, and became the kind of chorister who could draw the best from a congregation with her smile and enthusiasm. Called to serve as international president of Lambda Delta Sigma, a Church-related sorority for college women, she worried because she had never finished college herself. Believing, she served well. On her mission, she overcame her natural fear of speaking and became an excellent speaker. “She relies on the Spirit,” observes her husband, “and I have never seen anyone put forth more effort in a calling than Barbara does.”

The responsibilities of Relief Society general president have called upon Barbara Winder’s firmest faith and her best efforts. The weight of administrative duties, speaking assignments, and traveling—along with the sheer busyness of her days—could easily become intimidating. When she was first called, she drew heavily on Nephi’s resolve to “go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.” (1 Ne. 3:7.) “I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing,” she recalls, “but I knew that I would be guided.”

President Winder and her counselors

President Winder and her counselors, Joy F. Evans and Joanne B. Doxey, rely on inspiration in fulfilling their callings as the Relief Society General Presidency.

Her service has been made possible not only by the comfort and inspiration of the Spirit, but by some adjustments in her own life-style. The most radical change was an immediate move from the mission home in San Diego back to Salt Lake—with all the frustrations that moving in a hurry entails. Boxes containing precious papers and photographs are still packed. She has also felt some discomfort in giving up some responsibilities she had always viewed as solely hers. “Richard has assumed more responsibility for things around the house than he ever needed to before. Often he has dinner ready for me when I get home and sits with me while I eat.” Her husband’s emotional support has also been crucial. “When I come home and tell him I’m tired, he will say, ‘I’d be surprised if you weren’t.’ I think he is my greatest asset in handling the pressure.”

Her heavy schedule has also made a morning person of Barbara Winder, who often begins her day at 4:00 A.M. She calls her early morning scripture-reading, exercise, and planning sessions “my way of being in control of my day.”

Though these days she has less time for reading, cooking, sewing, and spending time with friends, she still allows herself her greatest pleasure—time with her family. She firmly holds to the tradition she has kept since childhood of having breakfast with the family. “I rejoice in my family,” she explains.

And her family—those who know her best—confirm that the Barbara Winder who seems so enthused and compassionate is absolutely genuine. She doesn’t have her company manners and her home manners,” says daughter Susan. “She’s as good as she seems.”

Good. It seems a simple word. But Barbara Winder’s goodness is a quite remarkable composite of her many gifts of love.

[photos] Photography by John Snyder

[photos] (Top left) Barbara, oldest of four Woodhead children, grew up in rural Salt Lake Valley. (Bottom left) Grandchildren enjoy Sister Winder’s compassion and love.

[photos] Though Sister Winder spends time speaking, traveling, and carrying out administrative duties (left), she builds it around her greatest pleasure—spending time with her family (right).