Lawrence Webster, Noted Curator Of Northwest Indians' Language

He was called "Web," such a wisp of a nickname for a man whose contribution to his Native American community turned out to be profound.

Lawrence Webster, an elder of the Suquamish Tribe who helped found the Suquamish Museum, died Sept. 18 at the age of 92.

Much of Mr. Webster's special status among his people was due to his knowledge of and promotion of Lushootseed, the native language of many Indians in the area.

Mr. Webster's first language was Lushootseed; he only learned to speak English when he was 8.

His knowledge of native languages also was important to people outside the tribe.

In 1986, a Pacific Lutheran University music professor composed a work based on famous words of Chief Sealth. Mr. Webster helped the composer, Gregory Youtz, translate Sealth's words into English.

Mr. Webster was born March 6, 1899, in Indianola, Kitsap County.

His grandparents were among the first group of families to move into the Suquamish area in the mid-1850s. His early boyhood was spent with extended family members in a bucolic atmosphere, on the Old Man Site near Agate Passage on the Kitsap Peninsula.

That period ended when the U.S. military acquired some of the land there, and about the same time, tribe members were required to relocate on reservations in the area.

"A lot of Indians became separated from their communities and their social and cultural activities then," said Mr. Webster's daughter, Marilyn Wandrey. "Those activities then became very important to my father."

Mr. Webster spent a lot of his younger years traveling. He and friends several times rode boxcars to cities around the West, working physical jobs along the way.

His most noteworthy journey took place in 1921, when he was a member of a Suquamish baseball team that was sent by a national sporting-goods company on a goodwill tour of Japan.

Mr. Webster played catcher on the squad, which spent more than three months overseas. After the company's support unexpectedly evaporated, Mr. Webster was credited with contacting the American consul in Japan and helping to arrange for the team's return stateside.

His travels broadened his outlook on many things, his daughter said. "I remember my mom would feel so bad when someone would say "Dirty Indian" to her or us kids, but my dad would comfort her," Wandrey recalled. "He had seen so much, and so many types of people. He knew there were always good people and bad people, everywhere."

Mr. Webster usually earned his living with his hands. He was a longshoreman, a logger, a fisherman.

Mr. Webster was frequently involved in tribal affairs. He helped establish tribal government for the Suquamish in the 1960s, and he served as tribal chairman from 1979 to 1985.

In 1979, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to represent Native American people at an event commemorating the 15th anniversary of the government program, VISTA.

In a booklet distributed at his funeral, he is picture shaking President Jimmy Carter's hand at the event.

He was long active in the Indianola Community Club, usually as the sole Indian represented. In 1983, he and other tribal members established the Suquamish Tribal Museum.

Mr. Webster's first wife, Mary, died in a a car accident in 1963. He married his second wife, June, in 1968, and she survives.

Besides Mrs. Webster, survivors include three daughters, Lorna Hill of Seattle, Cecelia Hawk of Suquamish, and Marilyn Wandrey of Spanaway, Pierce County; three sons, Dennis Webster of Longview, Chuck Webster of Kenai, Alaska, and Carey Webster of Deer Lodge, Mont.; 33 grandchildren; and several great- and great-great grandchildren.