Wheaton recalls teacher, WWII veteran who valued family, education
Alfred Samper of Wheaton was an intellectual World War II veteran who remembered intricate details of the conflict, a longtime teacher who valued family and higher education, and a gentleman who dressed the part.
Samper, who died Saturday at age 95, is being remembered as a classic man who never drew attention to himself or his accomplishments, but focused on making those around him better through education, encouragement and simple kindness.
"What meant most to him was family and education and the type of person you were," his daughter Debra Ebetsch of Wheaton said.
Samper was born Feb. 18, 1923, in Indianapolis, and was attending Butler University when he heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His daughter said he knew right then he needed to enlist, so he joined the Army and served in the Pacific Theater from 1943 to 1946 as a sergeant in the 295th Joint Assault Signal Company.
After the war, the son of a teacher and a doctor returned to pursuing his own education, eventually receiving a doctoral degree in romance languages from Indiana University. He then began raising a family with his wife of 69 years, Jeanne, including daughters Ebetsch and Laura Samper. The family eventually grew to include two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Samper spent the bulk of his career teaching Spanish at Wheaton Community High School from 1951 to 1987 -- before the school moved and became Wheaton Warrenville South, giving its former site first to Hubble Middle School and now to the Mariano's grocery store at Roosevelt and Naperville roads.
After retiring, he continued teaching at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy as well as College of DuPage, Loop Junior College (now called Harold Washington College) and North Central College.
Chuck Baker was an English teacher and department chairman, then principal, at Wheaton during Samper's time.
"I would describe Al as vigorously old school," Baker said. "There was no nonsense in his classroom. It was always learning as the major business in Al's life, and he was very serious about the academic expectations of his students."
Samper kept his hair cropped close and dressed in the standard teacher's attire: pressed pants, a plain shirt and a tie, Baker said.
His son-in-law, grandson and great-grandson each will wear one of his ties during his burial Friday at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ebetsch said.
The high standards for promptness and behavior that Samper imposed on his classroom didn't turn students away from studying Spanish; rather, it focused their efforts, making him a great example of "how you want to measure a successful teacher's career," Baker said.
Former student Dawn Westlake, now a filmmaker in California who speaks fluent Spanish along with Portuguese and Italian, said Samper instantly made an impression when he led her and a group of classmates on an exchange trip to Barcelona, Spain during her sophomore year.
"Besides Spanish, he really taught us kids discipline. Just in the way he lived his life, he modeled integrity and independence and encouraged independence," said Westlake, a student of Samper's from 1978 to 1982. "That was really important to him, that kids learn to think for themselves and figure solutions."
Ebetsch said her father had a hunger for life and he got to live it for more than 30 years longer than his brothers. His longevity tips were health-focused, starting with these: Don't smoke, don't drink.
"Take care of your body and be grateful for every single thing you have ever been given," Ebetsch said.
Relatives and friends will celebrate Samper's life Saturday during a visitation from 1 to 4 p.m. and a memorial service beginning at 4 p.m., both at Hultgren Funeral Home, 304 N. Main St., Wheaton.
Instead of flowers, family asks memorial donations be made to an education fund for Samper's 4- and 7-year-old great-grandchildren. Donations can addressed c/o S. Sandler (Sabina and Soren), 304 N. Main St., Wheaton, IL 60187.