Tuesday, May 01, 2001

Retiree dies saving friend

By Rebecca Billman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In a split-second decision, John Vandeberg saved the life of a friend. The decision cost his own life, but his sons said it was typical of their father's big-heartedness.

        Mr. Vandeberg, 52, was pulled into an undertow Sunday in Pensacola, Fla., after shoving an 18-year-old friend to safety. The water was only waist deep, but the current was too strong for Mr. Vandeberg to escape.

        A lover of nature and especially the ocean, the former Mount Carmel resident moved to Destin, Fla., a year ago after he retired from his job as a driver for Heidelberg Distributing.

        Mr. Vandeberg, who grew up in the Mason area and graduated from Moeller High School, had worked for Heidelberg for 15 years. Prior to that, he drove for H. Dennert Distributing Co. in Cincinnati.

        His son, John, of Centerville, Ohio, said his best quality was his warm heart. He was the conciliator in conflicts and avoided assigning blame.

        “He would always be the one to give,” said his son. “He chose to save someone in a split-second decision versus himself yesterday. That says it all.”

        Mr. Vandeberg was a spiritual man who eschewed con ventional religion. Instead, he drew strength from nature and kept his mind open, his son said.

        “He would wake up early on his days off and go to the park and read a book, enjoying the breeze by the river. He loved the peace of nature,” John Vandeberg said. “He had a deep respect for American Indian philosophies because of their love for nature.”

        But he also had a fun-loving side. With his endless jokes and broad smile, he'll probably be remembered among friends as the “heartbeat of the party,” said his son.

        In addition to his son, survivors include: his companion, Tracy Stanley; another son, Craig of Green Township; a daughter, Nicole Vandeberg of Batavia; his parents, John and Hester Vandeberg of Miamisburg, Ohio; a brother, Frank of Mason; two sisters, Jackie Wright of Oregonia and Libby Smith of Blanchester; and four grandchildren.

        A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Honeysuckle Hill shelter at Sharon Woods. Mr. Vandeberg's remains will be cremated.

        Memorials: Memorial Account for John Vandeberg at any Provident Bank.


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