Remembering Winifred ‘Westher’ Hess, volunteer, gardener, traveler

Hess, 93, was active in Berkeley’s Earthworms gardening group, Town & Gown and the local chapter of League of Women Voters.

Winifred (“Westher”) Lowdermilk Hess. Credit: Hess family

Winifred (“Westher”) Lowdermilk Hess passed away peacefully at her home on June 24, with her family by her side, after a long battle with COPD. She was 93.

Westher, daughter of Walter Clay Lowdermilk and Inez Marks Lowdermilk, was born in Pasadena, California, on Dec. 3, 1927. She began her world travels at an early age. She joined her parents for their extended work trips, traveling to the Middle East and North Africa for a year and a half just before World War II.

Westher met her future husband, Wilmot “Bill” Hess, at Oberlin College in Ohio, then transferred to UC Berkeley where she graduated with a degree in geography. After marrying Bill in 1950, she continued her travels and visited a total of 55 countries during her lifetime. One memorable trip involved the family traveling to Israel in 1972 soon after a forest of 10,000 trees was planted in honor of Westher’s father for his contributions to the state of Israel.

Westher was an active volunteer in numerous organizations all her life. At 19, she accompanied the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and administered smallpox vaccines in rural Mexico to help eradicate the disease. In Colorado she trained as a Master Gardener and manned the phones at the local Cooperative Extension Service office, answering questions from the public. She researched environmental issues and drafted issue papers for the League of Women Voters. She worked a crisis line for domestic abuse victims at a local safe house. She even interviewed inmates at the local jail to determine the likelihood of their recommitting crimes upon release.

Westher and Bill retired to Berkeley in 1996. Still active in local groups, Westher took part in Berkeley’s Earthworms gardening group, Town & Gown and the local chapter of League of Women Voters.

Westher is pre-deceased by her husband of 53 years (who died in 2004) and her son Walter Craig Hess (who died in 2000). Westher is survived by her daughter, Alison Hess Williams, and son Carl Hess (Tracy Pirnack), as well as four grandchildren.  

The memorial service will be private.