Cover photo for Walter Schwede's Obituary
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1949 Walter Schwede 2024

Walter Schwede

April 1, 1949 — June 19, 2024

Ferndale, WA

Walter Schwede, a distinguished violinist, teacher, husband, and father, passed away surrounded by family on June 19, 2024. Walter's life was marked by a passion for music, a commitment to education, and a profound impact on the communities he served. 

Born in 1949 in North Dakota, Walter began violin studies at age eight. He graduated from music school at the University of Michigan, where he met his wife, Bette Ann, and received a master’s degree from Catholic University of America. In his early career, he joined the Air Force Strolling Strings, playing for generals, dignitaries, and U.S. Presidents, was a professor at DePauw University, and served as Concertmaster of the Nashville Symphony. He was also a studio musician for country artists in Nashville and later played on countless film soundtracks.

It was Washington State where Walter spent most of his life and raised his family. He became Associate Concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony in 1984 and also served as Concertmaster of the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Seattle Opera, notably for Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

In 1997, Walter became a violin professor at Western Washington University (WWU) in Bellingham, where he helped shape the institution's string instrument program. He was an active chamber musician, organized concerts throughout Washington schools, and taught at music camps and festivals around the country, including Marrowstone and the Meadowmount School of Music. Walter retired from WWU in 2018 as an emeritus professor. 

Walter Schwede's musical legacy lives on. His colleagues recall his musicianship, cowboy hats, and sense of humor, and his students remember him as a passionate, punning, and inspiring mentor.

Walter’s interests ranged far beyond the violin. He loved science fiction, practical jokes, history, hunting, road trips, martial arts, dark beer, and cats. He was also an active member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bellingham, where he served on the vestry.

Together, Walter and his wife Bette Ann raised four sons: Karl, Derek, Jared, and Matt. Walter was a devoted father and instilled in his sons a love for music and sense of wonder at the world.

Walter is survived by his family, including his wife Bette Ann, his sons, his sister Madge, and his five grandchildren.

A memorial service to celebrate Walter's life and legacy will be held at 2pm on Saturday, July 6th at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 2117 Walnut St. Bellingham, WA. Friends, family, colleagues, and students are invited to gather and honor the life of Walter Schwede.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be given to the Walter Schwede Strings Scholarship (at https://foundation.wwu.edu/WalterSchwedeStringsScholarship), or to St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Bellingham, WA.


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