John Victor “Van” Van Dewerker entered into eternal rest September 18, 2012 at the age of 98 after a long, often exciting life.
Born March 29, 1914 to Helen and Frank Van Dewerker in Kearney, Nebraska, where he spent his first 20 years.
John has lived in Spokane since 1948 after spending 14 years in Seattle.
Early life in Kearney was a busy period for young John, who from the age of ten seemed to find some kind of rewarding work or play.
Sports, Boy Scouts and DeMolay filled the time when he was not delivering papers, working in a paint and glass store or shingling roofs for his building contractor Dad.
Encouraged by his creative former schoolteacher mother, he built a successful radio “crystal set” with which he was able to receive the first coast-to-coast radio broadcasts.
His model of the U.S.S.
Constitution won prizes in local contests.
John’s proudest moments in sports was, the year, at the age of 16, he won statewide honorable mention for his play at tackle on the winning Kearney Bearcat Football team.
A damaging knee injury unfortunately denied him the opportunity to play college ball.
The desire to travel guided his life over later years.
First was a 7-week hitchhiking trip to Chicago’s Century of Progress World Fair.
After a week in the Windy City, John and buddy, Clyde Fredericks, “thumbed on” to Detroit, Niagara Falls, Gettysburg and Washington D.C. Total cost per each of this Depression-time venture was $35.
A year later John, his sister Jane and two college friends drove west in his topless 1925 Model T Ford for a visit to Seattle where a young lady friend and her family had moved.
Seattle appealed to the young “flatlander” and he never returned to Nebraska to live.
After a year-long period of beachcombing on Puget Sound and a series of odd jobs, as well as completion of his college education at the University of Washington, the newly minted chemistry grad learned the job market was non-existent in the area.
“People always have to eat,” his mother opined and John applied and was accepted as a management trainee for Safeway Stores then expanding in the region.
After 18 months he was assigned to manage a small store atop Queen Anne Hill and later moved to another, larger QA location.
John and Kathleen Parks, the young woman who had lured John west were married in September, 1936.
First born to the Vans was daughter Helen who arrived in September, 1941, followed by son John in June, 1944.
John much later acknowledged that marrying at 22 was not the wisest move.
“All I had was a college degree, fifty dollars in the bank and no job.
For a good many years while in Seattle John became a golf “nut.”
His enthusiasm reached peak one July, 1941 day when he and a friend played, or rather hacked their way over 81 holes in a morning-to-evening adventure.
Wartime connected work beckoned and John left Safeway for an office position at the Todd Pacific Seattle Tacoma Shipyard.
At that time, after spending a great deal of time in the shipyard, John volunteered to write a personnel column for the in house publication The Keel.
Much to his surprise, on the basis of the columns, he was offered the editor’s position, aided no doubt by the fact that the current editor was an active alcoholic who missed too many deadlines.
As WWII industry wound down John was able to move into mainstream Seattle journalism with editorial positions at the Seattle Star and later the Seattle Times.
A job opening on the Spokane Daily Chronicle prompted the Van family to move to Spokane in January, 1948.
For the next 32 years in various editorial positions John was named Assistant Managing Editor, the first person to ever be so designated.
After an unfortunate divorce John felt the need to move in another direction for a time.
The Chronicle willingly approved a six-month leave of absence for him, which allowed John the opportunity to follow a long-held dream: take a globe circling tour.
Managing Editor Howard Clevenger paved the way in many ways by writing to Associate Press editors worldwide of John’s interest in visiting their press offices when possible.
During his absence the Chronicle printed two dozen travel articles he wrote under the heading “Roamin’ Holiday.
Not too long after his return to Spokane John met, and within a year, married Martha Savage, mother of three young boys: Bob, John and Tom.
The new family spent many happy summer days tent camping along the Pacific Coast, deep sea fishing, visiting Disneyland and building walkie talkies from kits.
All the boys were good workers, helping Dad to clean bricks, build walls, etc.
Meanwhile John kept active in professional and fraternal circles, twice being elected president of the Spokane Press Club.
He was selected for membership in Sigma Delta Chi, the Elks Lodge and Masonic Blue Lodge of which he was a charter member in West Seattle.
John’s interest in Washington State’s emerging wine industry led him to suggest writing a wine column for the Chronicle.
Management approved the novel idea and for the next nearly five years “Winewise” appeared weekly.
During that time, in 1977, the Spokane Enological Society, with 15 charter members, was formed, originally affiliated with a Seattle group.
John was not a member of the original wine group because of conflict of interest considerations, but he attended meetings and after retirement became a member.
Since then John has been named an honorary member and continued to occasionally write for the group’s “Wineminder.
Highlight in recent years was at the age of 90 when the Order of De Molay installed him as a member of that group’s most prestigious Legion of Honor.
John had been nominated to receive the honor in 1934 but geographic limitations prevented his investiture.
So, 70 years later, through a series of circumstance, he was so honored.
John’s travel bug, apparently contagious, inspired his wife Martha to travel with him extensively in Europe, Hawaii, Canary Islands.
In Europe they followed the B&B route in leased cars, visiting villages, some many times.
They met and spent pleasant days with French and Dutch families.
The last 18 months John was on the Chronicle staff were perhaps the most rewarding.
It was then Cowles Publishing decided to join the growing trend toward electronic computer generated production of newspapers.
Both Spokesman Review and Chronicle were committed to abandoning the hot metal, Linotype era and adopt the new process.
John’s continuing interest in new technology was rewarded when he was named to the new position of electronic Systems Coordinator.
For several months John, with a group of department representatives, traveled coast-to-coast examining and assessing operating electronic systems, finally settling on digital equipment’s development.
John and two representatives of the production department were sent to New Hampshire for several weeks for training in the new methods of producing type.
Upon return a computer training room was set up where staff members learned the basics of the new technology.
First editions of the papers produced entirely by the new methods were distributed Thanksgiving Day, 1979.
John retired February 1, 1980.
After retiring the Vans toured mainland Europe for 11 weeks, hating to come home they said.
Many weeks spent in Hawaii over time have been followed in recent years by several ocean cruises, “a way of life that can’t be beat for folks in our age bracket,” said Martha.
Besides travel, gardening and occasional home maintenance John spent weekends working in tasting rooms of Spokane’s first two wineries: Warden’s and Latah Creek.
Later he was employed by Texas Instruments demonstrating the newly introduced TV-related personal computers.
Gardening had great appeal for John, especially the years when his raspberry crop reached near commercial proportions.
Martha, his wife of more than 50 years passed away in May, 2012.
John is survived by his daughter, Helen Braden of Salem OR; son, John and wife Colleen of Ventura CA; stepsons: Robert Savage of Fairview Heights IL; Tom Savage, now working in New York and daughter-in-law Marilyn Savage of Coolin, ID.
Also surviving are four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren living in Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and California and his sister, Jan Eickmeier of Kearney, NE.
No services are planned at this time.
Arrangements have been entrusted to:
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