John E. Vanden Dries Jr.

A long time ago in September of 1974 a young woman sat patiently in Arnold Hall awaiting a young man who was supposed to escort her to a football game. According to her roommate Jane, at Colorado Women’s College, the young man played basketball and was a friend of Mark Simonitch. The young woman wasn’t especially tall either and expecting a basketball player she wore her high heels; which in the ‘70s could be really high. After awhile a young man, who wasn’t especially tall, came walking down the hallway. The young lady immediately noticed his bright blue eyes and was disappointed that this gentleman couldn’t possibly be her suitor because he didn’t look anything like a basketball player. Much to her surprise the young man walked right up to her and introduced himself as Jed Vanden Dries and asked if she was Cam McClelland. As this was indeed the gentleman she was waiting for, they went off to the game, completely unaware that their lives had just changed forever.

That was how our parents met for the first time. By graduation in 1975 they were engaged. After UPT in 1976 they were married. By 1978 they had a son named Sean. By 1979 they had another son named Drew. On Feb. 1, 2002 their story came to an end. Cam and Jed are interned together at the Air Force Academy. A few rows to the west lies Mark Simonitsch, ’75. A few plots to the north lies Mark Whalen, ’76. A few feet away lies Nick Jabara, ’01.

Drew and I would like to thank everyone in our Air Force Family who has come to our aid. Drew and I have been amazed at the level and amount of support that has poured in from all corners of the globe. Maj. Kevin “Fletch” Murray, USAF, came from Elmendorf to present the flag. Mrs. Laura Mills came from Lakenheath AFB to pay her respects. Lt. Col. John Thompson, USAF (Ret), came from Germany. Lt. Col. Robert Stewart, ’75, USAF (Ret), also came to say a few words.

It is extremely comforting to see so many people wanting to help. I would like to thank Lt. Gen. John Dallagher, ’69; and Brig. Gen. Taco Gilbert, ’78, for their help. I would like to thank my AOC Maj. Sean Herr, ’87, and MTL TSgt. Gorgon Fay for coordinating the lodging at USAFA for my family. I would like to thank C3C Steve McGregor, ’04, for playing taps. I would like to thank my classmates and Dirty Thirty (CS-30) for their support. I would like to thank the Alaska Parents Association. And lastly I would like to thank the AOG for being so flexible, cooperative, and helpful.

Sean Vanden Dries ’02  |  February 2002



Eagle River residents John E. and Catherine Vanden Dries died Feb. 1, 2002, in Eagle River. A memorial service was at Saint Andrews Church in Eagle River, with the Rev. Leo Walsh officiating. Interment was in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the U.S. Air Force Academy Cemetery. 

Mr. Vanden Dries was born Dec. 19, 1952, in Montgomery, Ala. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the U.S. Air Force Academy, and a master's in political science from Auburn University. In 1970 he joined the Air Force, and retired with the rank of colonel in 2000. Mr. Vanden Dries had been employed by Southwest Airlines since September 2000. 

Mrs. Vanden Dries was born April 17, 1953, in Bryan, Texas. She earned a bachelor's degree in education in 1975 from Colorado Women's College, and a master's in education in 1996 from the University of Michigan. She had taught first and second grade for the Anchorage School District for the last four years. In 1992, they moved to Alaska. They later left the state to live briefly in Pennsylvania, and then an Air Force base in Okinawa, Japan. They returned to Alaska in 1998. They were both members of St. Andrews Church in Eagle River. Their family wrote: ''Catherine was an essential volunteer for the Boy Scouts of America. During his military career, John had earned the National Defense Service Medal, Air Force Longevity Service Award, Humanitarian Service Award, Meritorious Service Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal. He had accumulated over 4,000 hours of flight time in service to his country and in the private sector.'' 

Mr. and Mrs. Vanden Dries are survived by their sons, Sean Vanden Dries at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, and Drew Vanden Dries of Anchorage; three nieces and five nephews. Mr. Vanden Dries is also survived by his mother, Aileen Vanden Dries of Las Vegas; father and stepmother, John E. Sr. and June Vanden Dries Sr. of Corvallis, Mont.; brother and sister-in-law, Brian and Jeannie Vanden Dries of Boise, Idaho; and sister and brother-in-law, Anne and John Zaiss of Las Vegas. Mrs. Vanden Dries is also survived by her mother and stepfather, Patty and Don Shaw of Toledo, Ohio; father, Bill McClelland of Los Angeles; and brothers and sisters-in-law, Paul and Debbie McClelland of San Jose, Calif., and Justin and Wendy McClelland of Africa. Family requests memorial donations to the John and Catherine Vanden Dries Memorial Scholarship Fund, Account No. 1002016101, Wells Fargo Bank, 320 W. Fifth Ave., Suite 168, Anchorage 99501.

Anchorage Daily News  |  February 6, 2002




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