Whitman’s Oldest Living Alum: Pearl Virginia Teeter ’32
Eighty-one years ago, a woman with short dark hair and a pearl necklace sat at a desk with a stack of papers, combing carefully through each sheet with a red pen. Her name was Pearl Allan, and she was a proofreader for the Whitman College Pioneer.
At 103 years old, Pearl Virginia Teeter is now the oldest living Whitman alumna. In the eight decades since her graduation on the steps of Memorial Hall, Teeter has raised four daughters with her husband, fellow Whitman graduate Kenneth Teeter ’32, and made her life in Medford, Ore.
An English major with a minor in music, Teeter made her love of words and piano central to her life at Whitman. Working as a department head for Waiilatpu and proofreader for The Pioneer, she sharpened her reading and writing wit. Later in life, this enthusiasm for words helped her master the game of Scrabble, at which–even at age 100–she could still best her daughters.
While studying music at Whitman, Teeter frequently accompanied voice students on the piano. Teeter’s love of music and words helped her to memorize the words to countless songs, which she sang and played throughout her adult life.
“She was a very good student, and she was an outstanding pianist,” said daughter Sylvia Parks in an email.
One of the students Teeter accompanied was Kenneth Teeter, though the two only began dating after both had graduated and moved away. In the biography that Parks wrote for her mother’s 100th birthday, she discussed her parents’ musical talents:
“The greatest blessing she and Ken gave their daughters was the gift of their music. Our house was filled with Mom’s beautiful piano and Dad’s glorious baritone voice. When friends came for a party, they often joined in around the piano.”
In addition to taking part in activities related to her academic interests, Teeter was as socially involved on campus as any busy Whittie is today. While a student, she also served as secretary of the YWCA Club and treasurer of the Panhellenic Council representing her chapter of Phi Mu, which was an active women’s fraternity at Whitman until 1951.
Despite being somewhat shy in character, Teeter took great pleasure from her social life with her Phi Mu sisters.
“She really enjoyed her sorority,” wrote Parks.
After filling her years at Whitman with music, books and an active social life, Teeter graduated in 1932 into one of the greatest economic crises in American history. Finding no immediate teaching opportunities, Teeter moved back to her hometown in Anacortes, Wash. to work as a grocery store clerk before enrolling in business school in Seattle. While in Seattle, she became reacquainted with Kenneth Teeter, and they were married in December of 1935.
Once married, Teeter threw herself into home life and the job of raising her four daughters: Jeannine, Sylvia, Linda and Virginia.
“Mom’s philosophy of life was that she was first and foremost a wife and mother,” remembered Parks in an email. “She was always there when we got home because she didn’t work outside of the home.”
Kenneth was a golfer and Teeter often accompanied him to the course.
“She was walking around the course with him one day and picked up a club, swung it and decided that she could do that too,” wrote Parks in Allan’s biography.
Once she picked up the game, together the two traveled all over the state to play and watch tournaments. They also played many tournaments at the Pebble Beach Golf Course in California, regarded as one of the most beautiful and prestigious golf courses in the world. Though Teeter passed away in 1997, Teeter continued playing golf well into her eighties.
Teeter now lives in Medford, Ore. in the home in which she and her husband raised their daughters. She now boasts 13 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.
“Pearl celebrated her 103rd birthday on November 26, 2012,” wrote Parks. “She would love to be able to get out on that golf course again.”