Cover photo for Wayland Keith DeWitt's Obituary
Wayland Keith DeWitt Profile Photo

Wayland Keith DeWitt

April 18, 1935 — September 11, 2020

Wayland Keith DeWitt


Dr. Wayland Keith De Witt cherished every moment as a gift.He was given 90 days to live, but enjoyed nearly 4 additional years, remaining fully independent. He loved listening to music and reading—often 4-5 books per week, watching sports, and caring for his hummingbirds.His favorite sound in the world was his grandchildren's laughter.

Wayland passed away peacefully at his beloved Palm Desert, California home on September 8, 2020.

Wayland was born April 18, 1935 in Springfield Mo. and grew up in Bois D'Arc, Missouri, one of Maggie and Oren DeWitt's eight children. His gentle demeanor, intellect, and witty sense of humor were defining qualities that positively impacted many people's lives. He was humble, thoughtful, devoted, and famous for practical jokes. Wayland won a radio show singing contest in the early 50's. He was a patron of education and the arts and a sharp dressed man. When someone mentioned an idea he liked, he often said: "I was just about to think of that!" with his signature chuckle. He was popular and courteous. His grandchildren would tattle: "Grandpa Wayland was flirting again." which would totally crack him up.

He attended Graceland College on a golf scholarship, then San Jose State. While fighting fires in Joseph Oregon, he met Sharon (Arnhart) and they were married in November of 1959. They had two children, Liysa and Jon. Wayland got a BA in Counseling at Western New Mexico University, a Master's Degree in History from Central Missouri State, a Doctorate in Education and Counseling from the University of Wyoming, and a post-doctorate degree in Administration from Harvard University. He taught at the Medical School in Cali, Columbia, worked as a counselor. He was the founding Dean of Students at Walla Walla Community College, where he supported education and vocational training for the community and at WSP. He later became vice-president then president at Walla Walla Community College, where he spearheaded many innovative programs, including using the Spokane world's Fair Expo buildings like the Dome to create the new campus. He took a personal interest in each student and staff member. One of his former students described his as "smart, sassy, humble and genuine."

As the founding president of Northeast Texas Community College, they built the college from the ground up, an achievement detailed in Dr. Jerry Wesson's book "Miracle on FM 1735". Dr. Wayland De Witt was named the most effective college administrator in the United States in 1987. His philosophy was to hire great people, not micromanage them, expect results, and to treat every individual with respect and dignity. He worked hard.. He used these same principles in his relationships.

He made significant sacrifices for loved ones. He had many friends but was a bit of a hermit and his protective boundaries allowed him to be fully present when he was with people.

He was an active advocate for social justice, continually working for equality, education, for DV reform, for universal healthcare, for dignity for immigrants .He volunteered at Hospice and translating for immigrant children at Head Start. Wayland was proud of his Native American heritage through grandmother Alice Whitebird, and of his European roots as well.

At Brewer State, the racist board ordered him to fire his black secretary, Joyce, simply for being black in 1992. He refused, and lost his job, but retained his integrity. All of the programs he'd advocated for were implemented. Many students, including Stacy Sparks, remarked that he was the best president Brewer State ever had.

Wayland loved to travel after retirement, and lived in Yalta,(Nadia) Lake Chapala and Oaxaca Mexico, Oregon, and frequently visited his daughter in Hawaii. He enjoyed visits to Scotland, Chile, Turkey as well the San Juan Islands,

His son, Jon (Tor) DeWitt preceded him in death, as did his brothers Stephen De Witt, Carlos DeWitt, twins Elta and Eldon De Witt, dear friends, Felix Rousch, Alice Segrest, the Minnichs.

He is survived by his daughter, Liysa (Rick) Swart, grandchildren, Aukai (Nina) King, Dane Northon, Dakota (Teah) DeWitt and Lauren DeWitt. He is also survived by his brothers Thomas De Witt, John (Jake) DeWitt, sister Shirley Little, ex-wife Sharon Fisher, Wendy Camden, and many beloved friends Including Jerry Wesson, Ali Oneal, Kelly Givans (Holly, Ivy) Deborah Koberg, Ellen Clark, Gwen, Maria, Ali Wilson, Millie, Mike, and although he wasn't in touch much, the Chitwoods, Gadberrys, Cottinghams, Van Ausdales, Dietrichs, Tuckers, Mitchells and Cooks were dear to him, Forgive omissions as there are likely many and none intentional.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to establish the Wayland DeWitt Memorial Reading Room at the Lotus Island Oasis Trauma Recovery Center. or donate to your local library or community college in his name.

Anecdotes and memories will be compiled in "The book of Wayland" and submissions can be sent to To share stories of this wonderful man.
To order memorial trees in memory of Wayland Keith DeWitt, please visit our tree store.


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