Obituary: Len Munter
Husband, father, educator
Longtime Claremonter Leonard “Len” Munter died peacefully in his sleep at home, surrounded by his loving family, on December 17, 2017. He was 95 years old.
Len was a popular character in Claremont—well known for being friendly, funny, teasing, entertaining, irreverent, caustic, feisty, opinionated and politically progressive. In his private life he was a loving husband, father and grandfather. He was also a private person, well organized and self-disciplined, frugal, intellectually curious, and knowledgeable about many things.
He often said that his wife and family were the most important parts of his life; in fact, he personally requested the wording of the headline that appears above, “husband, father, educator.” He was the loving husband of Helen-Jeanne, his wife of 67 years; father to his four children, all of whom attended Claremont schools; and grandfather to his six grandchildren.
The Munter family has convened for week-long annual family reunions for the past 37 years, in locations ranging from Newport Beach to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Based on a childish mispronunciation of “Grampy,” Mr. Munter was known as “Guppy” in his family, and even sported a license plate reading “Guppy 6” in tribute to his grandchildren.
In addition to his family, Mr. Munter loved gardening, especially orchids; tennis, which he played with his “geezer” friends until age 87; traveling to more than 30 countries, with a particular love for Paris and the gardens of Japan; art, especially Rembrandt and Michelangelo’s David; hiking Yosemite’s John Muir Trail; watching all kinds of sports, especially the Dodgers and, later, the Angels; music, of both the classical and the 1940s periods; and reading, especially history, science, and 19th century poetry.
He was deeply concerned and often quite vocal about politics. He fought for civil rights, joining the Freedom Riders for a month in Selma, Alabama in 1962. He later earned the friendship of Medgar Evers’ widow, Myrlie, by warmly welcoming her children into his school when they moved to Claremont.
He also supported environmental awareness, from back in the days when it was called “conservation,” and when composting meant dumping coffee grounds directly onto the soil. Mr. Munter was a lifelong Democrat, and strongly supported the party’s candidates from his beloved Adlai Stevenson onward.
Mr. Munter was deeply dedicated to his vocation of education. He developed and practiced his educational philosophies of “letting creativity run rampant,” “developing self worth through academic competencies,” and emphasizing the importance of teachers’ authenticity and empathy with their students. He believed that education was the key to a successful community, society and nation.
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1922, Mr. Munter attended Brooklyn College for two years before enlisting in the Army Air Force. As a navigator on a Consolidated B-24 Liberator, he flew 26 missions over Europe during World War II in 1944 and 1945. Although he was awarded five medals, he was always a pacifist at heart, and rarely spoke about his wartime experiences.
After the war, he returned home for six months, a period he looked back on as his “Broadway Len” days, because he enjoyed performances by the likes of Billie Holliday and Sarah Vaughan.
After earning his BA in political science from Washington DC’s George Washington University, Mr. Munter left the east coast for good, moving to Southern California, where he continued his education and happened upon a temporary job at an insurance company.
It was there that he met the love of his life, Helen-Jeanne Jewett, whom he married in 1949. While he was attending UCLA as a graduate student, the couple had their first child, Mary. Two more children, Lindsay and Cameron, were born after he took his first teaching job in Walnut Creek, California, where he completed his master’s degree in education at nearby UC Berkeley. In 1955 the family moved to Lakewood, California, where Mr. Munter spent six years teaching, and where the couple’s fourth child, Seth Daniel, was born.
The Munters’ final move came in 1961, when they arrived in Claremont. There Mr. Munter was the founding principal of Mountain View Elementary School. He then became assistant superintendent of schools before serving as principal for three different Bonita Unified School District locations, where he remained until his retirement in 1986.
In the midst of his administrative and teaching career, he earned his PhD in education from the Claremont Graduate School in 1969.
Over the course of his career, Mr. Munter worked as an elementary school teacher in every primary grade, as a principal of five elementary schools, an assistant superintendent for instruction, and as director of early childhood and Head Start programs. In addition, he served on many civic and nonprofit boards and commissions, such as Claremont’s Coordinating Council and Library Commission, and the House of Ruth’s executive committee. He was a member of six professional associations, including serving as president of the Claremont Administrators Association. He received honorary life memberships from both the local parent faculty association and the National Education Association. Finally, he consulted with seven governmental organizations, including the US Department of Education at both the national and state level.
He is survived by his wife, Helen-Jeanne, and their four children, Mary, Lindsay, Cameron and Seth Daniel; five grandchildren, Daniel, Julia, Chloe, Lauren and Anna; and one great-grandchild, Amalia. He was predeceased by his sixth grandchild, Sarrina; and his brother, Donald.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions in Mr. Munter’s name to the Mt. San Antonio Gardens Scholarship Fund at msagardens.org/giving, or by check made out to Congregational Homes, 900 E. Harrison Ave., Pomona, CA 91767.
A party in his honor will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, February 4 at Mt. San Antonio Gardens Assembly Room, 900 E. Harrison Ave., Pomona.