Former governor dies at 91
Former Colorado Gov. John Vanderhoof of Grand Junction, a World War II fighter pilot, Western Slope advocate and 20-year veteran of the Colorado House, died Thursday. He was 91.
Vanderhoof did a lot more than serve as Colorado’s 37th governor from 1973 to 1975. Prior to that, he was lieutenant governor under former Gov. John Love, becoming governor when Love resigned to serve as director of the Office of Energy Policy under President Richard Nixon.
Vanderhoof served more than 20 years in the Colorado House, twice as speaker during the 1963-64 legislative session, and again from 1967 until 1970, when he became lieutenant governor, the first under the state’s then-new constitutional provision that created the joint election of governor and lieutenant governor.
“He was probably one of the most respected speakers of the House (that) they had for a long time,” said Grand Junction resident Tillie Bishop, who spent four years in the Colorado House starting in 1970 before serving another 24 years in the Colorado Senate. “That’s when we had some civility and good relationships between the two parties, even though we disagreed on the issues.”
Born in Rocky Ford on the Eastern Plains, Vanderhoof arrived on the Western Slope at the end of World War II. He was transferred to a Navy hospital in Glenwood Springs after being shot down over the Pacific, and not for the first time, Bishop said.
After the war, he stayed in Glenwood Springs and opened a sporting goods store and two banks.
It was there where he met his second wife, Neva Ruth Vanderhoof, who died at age 84 in Grand Junction almost exactly a year ago.
At the time, Vanderhoof told The Daily Sentinel how he met Ruth, saying “she was the sweetest person in the world, and she got me out of a lot of scrapes.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a statement honoring his predecessor.
“He was a decorated fighter pilot shot down three times in the Pacific and became Colorado’s governor after two decades representing the Western Slope in the House of Representatives,” Hickenlooper said. “Governor Vanderhoof believed in public service and was passionate about leaving his community better off than he found it. In that regard, and so much more, he was beyond successful.”
Vanderhoof received two Purple Hearts, three Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross, according to Navy records.
When his political career ended, Vanderhoof took the job as the first paid executive director of Club 20, a job he would hold for more than a decade.
In that position, Vanderhoof put the Western Slope advocacy group on the map, instituting several programs that exist today, such as annual sojourns to the Colorado Legislature and Washington, D.C., said Greg Walcher, also a former Club 20 director.
“He was a great counselor and advisor,” Walcher said. “He took Club 20 and made it a professional organization. He established tremendous influence both in Denver and Washington during his years, and that continues to this day.”
Vanderhoof was the only governor from the Grand Junction/Glenwood Springs area, but not the first from the Western Slope. Other Western Slope governors were Daniel Issac J. Thornton of Gunnison (1951-1955), William Lee Knous of Ouray (1947-1950), Davis Hanson Waite of Aspen (1893-1895) and Benjamin Harrison Eaton of Leadville (1885-1887).
Mary Louise Giblin Henderson, a longtime political reporter for the Sentinel who covered Vanderhoof in the statehouse, said Vanderhoof knew what he was doing as a legislator.
“John Vanderhoof was an astute politician, a strong governor, an incredibly effective speaker of the House, and my longtime friend,” she said.
Bishop said Vanderhoof was respected on both sides of the political aisle, saying he knew every canyon and crevice in the state, and was an avid hunter, pilot and fisherman.