John Louis Vifian, 91, longtime Ellensburg resident and retired Professor of English at Central Washington University, passed away on Saturday morning, October 12, 2019, at his home in Ellensburg. A memorial celebration will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, October 18, 2019 at Steward & Williams Funeral Home. Please bring an anecdote, tribute, or funny story to share.
John was born on June 12, 1928 in Portland, Oregon to John Louis Vifian, Sr. who emigrated from Switzerland and Mary Lou Manning, a widowed Tennessee beauty. He was the only one of his mother's many pregnancies that resulted in birth, albeit a very premature one. He joked that he was sent home from the hospital in a shoe box. He also mused that his entrance into the world ushered in the Great Depression, which hit his elderly parents hard. John was an avid learner with an insatiable curiosity from early age. In his formative years he took refuge in the library and the librarian became his personal mentor. His family moved from Portland to the rural area of Mallala where he graduated from the 8th grade as valedictorian. He spent a semester in high school before he was forced to drop out for work to become the main source of financial support for his family. He worked many different jobs at once where his penchant for figuring things out was particularly valuable.
John’s family moved to Spokane where he worked for Washington Water Power and the Spokesman Review as a delivery boy. He earned enough to buy his parents a small house and was working his way up the WWP management ladder when the results of an intelligence test he was asked to take prompted his boss to advise him to try to get admitted to college, even without a high school diploma. He chose and was admitted to Whitworth College to attend college courses which in part fulfilled a high school diploma. Starting out in pre-med, he switched to English literature and graduated from Whitworth cum laude in 1954.
John married Alda Taylor in 1950, and their son, John Louis Vifan III was born in 1951. That marriage later ended in divorce. John was a man of strong ideals and had become very active in a religious organization, the Plymouth Brethren, at the age of 16. He gradually became a leader/scholar of the congregation. Functioning as a pastor, his most amusing accomplishment was leading the congregation in song, a daunting challenge for someone who could not carry a tune, although he was passionate about music. His religious convictions, and his role as pastor resulted in the approval of his petition as a conscientious objector in the Korean War, even though he was prepared to go to prison if it had been denied. He often regretted the loss of his Christian faith that, for him, could not hold up to the scrutiny of fact and science.
John completed his master's degree in English at Washington State College and his PhD in English literature at the University of Colorado. He was in the process of completing his thesis on the fiction of Samuel Johnson when his mother's second husband died and he returned to be near her. As a result, he did not complete his doctorate until 1972. He accepted a job in the Central Washington State College (now Central Washington University) English Department in 1961 and taught there for over forty years before fully retiring. John truly loved teaching and created several courses including a seminar of Literary Criticism for graduate students, a science fiction literature course and a humanities course on World War I. If allowed, he would never have retired. John served the English Department as Department chair from 1993-1997 and served on the faculty senate for many years.
John did have other interests, however, that he dove into full force. In 1969 he married Beverly Benson and they began a 40-year commitment to sailing their 36 ft. sloop (that he and his son, John Jr., built and sailed often together) that took them most summers into the San Juans, Gulf Islands and through the inside passage to Alaska as far as Anchorage and to Glacier Bay National Park near Juneau. John's passion for music and the arts resulted in annual subscriptions to the Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony, Pacific Northwest Ballet and many theater productions.
John developed a very large library of books, of classical music and a BluRay film library which he fully catalogued with specific information and reviews. In later years, when health issues prohibited sailing, John and Beverly avidly took up world travel and enjoyed trips that included exploration of Europe, China, Russia, Antarctica, South America, Southeast Asia, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Australia. His last venture was a round trip cruise from Seattle to Alaska to celebrate his 90th birthday on June 12, 2018.
A lifelong Democrat, John was committed to social justice and was a lifelong member of ACLU. He accomplished two goals recently: living to celebrate his 91st birthday and his and Beverly’s 50th wedding anniversary June 6, 2018. He unfortunately will not be able to accomplish the third: voting into office a Democratic US President in 2020. His survivors will have to carry that torch. Please consider, as an act of remembrance, working to get out the vote in November 2020.
John is survived by his wife, Beverly of Ellensburg and son John Vifian III and his wife Nicole of Seattle, as well as many friends, students and colleagues whose lives he touched over the years.
Memorial contributions in John’s honor are suggested to Hospice Friends, 302 E. Second, Ellensburg, 98926; the Union Gospel Mission, 1300 N. First, Yakima, 98901; the Seattle Opera (www.seattleopera.org/donate) or the Seattle Symphony (www.seattlesymphony.org/give).
Steward & Williams Funeral Home and Crematory has been entrusted with caring for John’s family. Online condolences may be left at www.steward-williams.com
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