John Webster

Obituary of John Cross Webster

John Cross Webster, age 101, died on December 29th, 2021, in Glens Falls, New York. John is survived by his wife Barbara of Chestertown, New York, sons John, Tom, Bill, Charlie and Dan, grandchildren Bryant, Ellis, Kimmianne and Sean and great-grandchildren Isaac and Mirah, as well as Barbara's nieces and nephews. John was born on February 23, 1920, in Runnels, Iowa, the nearest town to his grandfather's farm, to parents Harry Newton Webster and Merle Ann (Winegar). He and his mother left the farm after his father died of tuberculosis in 1923, moving first to Des Moines and then Iowa City. At City High School and later the University of Iowa, John was a student of Hymie Voxman, the noted music educator for whom the university’s music building is named, and he developed into an accomplished clarinet player. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music in 1941 and a master’s degree in 1943. With World War II underway, he served as a civilian instructor at an army air corps training facility at Yale University in 1943 and 1944, teaching radio operators deploying to Europe the fundamentals of their bombers’ radio sets. After the two years at Yale, he took a job as an acoustic research engineer with C. G. Conn, the band instrument maker, in Elkhart, Indiana. While in Elkhart in 1945, he was married to Mary Bryant, whom he had met while both served as radio instructors at Yale. They later moved to Iowa City, where John began work on a PhD program in psychoacoustics, the scientific study of sound perception. In 1947, he received an invitation from a former Iowa psychoacoustics professor (and fellow member of the university symphony orchestra), who had gone on to establish a psychoacoustic research division at the Navy Electronics Laboratory (NEL) in San Diego, to join him there. John and Mary moved to San Diego, living in the community of Pacific Beach, where five sons and a daughter were born between 1948 and 1958 (the daughter died in infancy). In 1951, they returned briefly to Iowa City, where John completed his final semester and received a PhD in audiology. Back in San Diego, Dr. Webster continued his research activities at NEL, publishing numerous professional papers and becoming an active member of the Acoustical Society of America. He also played clarinet in the La Jolla symphony, served as lay leader and sang in the choir of the Pacific Beach Methodist Church, and coached little league baseball. In 1959 and again in 1966, he arranged exchanges where he spent the year working at a research laboratory in Cambridge, England, while living with his family of five boys in a nearby village and taking extended trips in Europe in a VW camper. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, his work at the navy lab increasingly involved observation and testing aboard naval ships at sea, often in distant oceans, giving him the opportunity to see the world but requiring him to be away from home for long periods. In 1975, he and Mary were divorced, and after thirty years of government service, including his time at Yale and San Diego, he retired and moved to upstate New York. In 1977 in Chestertown, New York, he was married to Barbara Jancar, and for the next twenty years they split their time between Chestertown and Brockport, New York, in the Rochester area, where they both had university jobs. John’s new job was at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute of Technology. A significant focus of his time at NTID, from which he retired in 1985, was developing improved auditory speech discrimination tests. As with his England trips years earlier, he and Barbara worked to arrange exchanges that found them having extended stays in the Soviet Union, France and Washington, D.C. John and Barbara retired permanently to Chestertown in 1997. For the last twenty-five years, John and Barbara have enjoyed their beloved Donovan Farm, with its unique home, pond, woods, animals, machinery, fruit trees and gardens. There has always been a project at hand, hospitality to offer, papers to go over, trips to plan, and travels to reminisce about. With the timing of a pro, John hosted his 100th birthday party on February 23, 2020, with people traveling from all over the country to celebrate with him, just a few weeks before the pandemic shut everything down. John was lighthearted, engaged, gentle, cheerful, organized, knowledgeable, and precise. He had an incredible mind for numbers and sequences, and loved any task related to coding or transcribing, even ones as mundane as bank statement activity. John loved a good book and a good fire, the former in peace and quiet, the latter either indoors or out, accompanied by family and friends, good food and possibly even a margarita. He always started his day with Orange Seville coffee, ground to a fine powder and mixed with boiling water in his personal cup, the one with the broken handle (he said he learned this technique on the Trans-Siberian Express). He added a splash of Stewart’s eggnog to the coffee before sitting down to read the morning papers. Stewart’s was also the source of his favorite dessert, chocolate ice cream. John enjoyed travel; any excuse for a trip would do, graduations, weddings, professional meetings, dog shows, family reunions, cultural events, you name it. He was a steadfast San Diego Padres fan since their entry into the MLB in 1969, and a history buff who enjoyed reading and talking about history spanning many periods. John also enjoyed music, theater, ballet and photography. He was a walking encyclopedia (and atlas) and a wonderful storyteller. The family is grateful for the longtime dedicated help from Tom and Dee, and the exceptional care and consideration provided by Amy and Michael over the past few years. They also appreciate the support from Neighbors New York, the staff and providers at Hudson Headwaters Health Network and the Glens Falls Hospital staff. A memorial service will be held later this year. Donations in memory of John can be sent to St. John the Baptist Church, Riverside Drive, Chestertown, NY 12817, the American Legion Post 964, P.O. Box 521, Chestertown, N.Y 12817 or the charity of your choice. Please visit www.alexanderfh.net for online guest book and condolences.
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