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Tuesday, July 4, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Arnie Weinmeister, labor leader and football Hall of Famer, dies

Seattle Times staff reporter

Standing 6 feet 4 and weighing more than 200 pounds, Arnie Weinmeister was a steam engine on the football field. Players would flip a coin to decide who would have to face the menacing defensive tackle head-on.

Off the field, the Seattle native and Pro Football Hall of Famer was just as powerful, becoming one of the most-vocal leaders for the Teamsters union in the Western states.

Mr. Weinmeister, who made a lasting impression in the arenas of football and labor, died Wednesday (June 28) of congestive heart failure. He was 77.

Born in Rhein, Saskatchewan, in 1923, Mr. Weinmeister grew up as one of eight children born to German immigrants in Canada. He later moved to the Pacific Northwest, attending high school in Portland.

He entered the University of Washington in 1941 to study economics and quickly stood out on the Husky football team, starting at end, fullback and tackle, and earning the nickname "The Big Horse."

"He was one of the finest players in college," said Carl Fennema, a Husky teammate. "He was smart, he was fast, and he was determined. You didn't mess with him on the field."

His college football career was interrupted by World War II, when Mr. Weinmeister served in the Army, seeing action in France and Germany and advancing to the rank of sergeant before his discharge in 1946.

In 1948, he graduated from the UW with a degree in business economics and mathematics, and entered pro football as a tackle for the All-American Football Conference's New York Yankees. From 1950 to 1953 he played for the National Football League's New York Giants.

Although he played in the United States for only six years, Mr. Weinmeister's speed and strength gained him respect among teammates and opponents.

"It was a wonder to see him on the field," said Dante Lavelli, who played end for the Cleveland Browns and often faced off against Mr. Weinmeister during his career. "He was one of the first big men who could move that quickly."

In 1954, the Giants took Mr. Weinmeister to court for breaking his contract to accept a job with the Canadian Football League's B.C. Lions. Mr. Weinmeister won his court case, and the case was a precursor to modern free agency, said John Bankert, the Pro Football Hall of Fame's executive director.

Mr. Weinmeister, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984, left a legacy "as one of the first true great defensive stars preserved in our museum," Bankert said.

Mr. Weinmeister retired from football in 1955 and spent the rest of his life with the Teamsters union, negotiating contracts for health and welfare coverage, pensions and higher pay.

"Sometimes he wouldn't be home all night because he was doing round-the-clock negotiations, but he never complained about it," said his wife, Joey Weinmeister.

"(He) loved going to work in the morning because he knew he was going to help somebody."

Mr. Weinmeister served as an elected union officer for 36 years in various roles, including president of the joint council, secretary-treasurer for Local 117, international vice president and Western conference director. In his role as conference director, he represented more than 300,000 union members in the West, helping to raise pay and increase cooperation among branches of the union, members said.

William Roberts, a former Seattle Teamsters attorney, said the union leader was respected for his quiet, unassuming style of negotiation. He often reached settlements for workers without having to resort to strikes, Roberts said.

"It'll be a long time before we see power like his in the West again," Roberts said. "If he gave his word, you could be sure that it would get done."

Besides his wife, Mr. Weinmeister is survived by his children, Gretchen Slater of Anchorage, Hans Weinmeister of Seattle, Kirsten Weinmeister of Duvall and Jason Weinmeister of Scottsdale, Ariz.; eight grandchildren; and two great-granddaughters.

There will be no funeral. The family requests donations be sent to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, 1100 Fairview Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98109.

Andrew DeMillo's phone message number is 206-464-2782. His e-mail address is ademillo@seattletimes.com.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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