Norwood lost a shining star last month with the passing of Aaron Michael Vandenberg on Feb. 20, 2011. A 2002 graduate of Norwood High School, Aaron had been living in Seattle, where he was seeking a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Washington. Prior to that he received his bachelor of arts degree in environmental studies from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore.
Aaron’s father, Mark Vandenberg, is well-known throughout the region as Norwood’s veterinarian for 30 years. Mark and his wife Donna moved to Norwood in 1978, when he started the San Miguel Veterinary Clinic, which he sold in 2008. Aaron was born in Montrose on August 8, 1983. Just before Aaron’s 13th birthday, his mother died after a long battle with melanoma.
During his youth in Norwood, Aaron excelled in school, sports and many other activities. A dedicated Boy Scout, he earned the rank of Eagle Scout in 1998, for which he designed and built an arbor for his final project, which he dedicated to the memory of his mother.
Aaron was a member of the Norwood School Knowledge Bowl team and track team, and was an avid skier, biker, hiker, kayaker, fly fisherman – and a serious dog lover. He enjoyed painting and photography, and many of his photographs were published in local newspapers and magazines. Aaron also excelled at cooking, something he inherited from his mother, according to his father, who noted that Aaron loved the Portland Farmers Market, as well as hunting for food in nature. “He was always on the lookout for salmonberries, blueberries, huckleberries and raspberries for a tasty treat on the trail or delicious pancakes on many a camping trip,” Mark said.
“For those that are not aware… I was seriously considering becoming a chef before coming here,” Aaron wrote in an April 15, 2004 blog entry about student life at Lewis and Clark. “I was all lined up to apply at the Culinary Institute of America but decided at the last minute that I could always cook somewhere, but I couldn’t always find a liberal arts education. Now I am looking into how multinationals affect global resources or how economic markets sustain societies or how to create Van Dyke Brown Photo prints. I couldn’t have gotten that anywhere else.”
In a later Lewis and Clark blog entry, he wrote: “For me, coming from a town that barely hit a population mark of 700-1,000 people, horses [on] main street, and no stoplights for at least a 45-minute drive, coming here was a quite a shock.”
While in school, Aaron expanded his skills and love for the outdoors through his participation in and later management of the school’s College Outdoors program, offering cross-country skiing, backpacking, whitewater sports, sea kayaking and hiking excursions to students and alumni.
Aaron’s adventures also brought him to foreign countries. “He went to France, Kenya and Tanzania during his junior college year,” said his father. He also went “to Chile for the Boy Scout World Jamboree; to Copenhagen for graduate studies; to Hawaii, and to New Zealand with me after his mother passed away. We drove together from Alaska to Seattle on the Al-Can Highway, with lovely stops along the way. Paddling his kayak, he explored Colorado lakes, Lake Powell, the Baja coastline and the epic 650-mile Ketchikan to Glacier Bay National Park via the inland passage.”
During a memorial service at Norwood Christian Church on Feb. 27, Aaron’s father told the crowd, “He was my helper, my friend, my boy. His quiet demeanor helped me and taught me to remain calm and grounded.
“He was a gracious and a gentle man who loved his friends and family and had a very special loving relationship with his grandmother Venla. I believe he would want to be remembered as a teacher, a mentor, a lover of the great outdoors, with a true appreciation of beauty on this earth.”
Aaron was preceded in death by his mother Donna Vandenberg, grandfather George “Bud” Vandenberg, and grandparents Claude and Cathryn Cherry.
He is survived by his wife of six months, Erin Vandenberg, and her parents Barry Steinkruger and Vicki Vermillion; father Mark Vandenberg and fiancé Abby Altshuler; grandmother Venla Vandenberg, uncle Robert Vandenberg and his wife Nikki; aunt Jane Anselmo and her daughters Andrea and Christina; and his extended family, which included Eric and Sue Berg. Graveside services were held at the Norwood Cemetery on March 4. Contributions in honor of Aaron can be made to Norwood Fire-Rescue, 970/327-4800.
– Compiled by Jessica Newens