Dr. David L. Vanderwerken

Dr. David VanderwerkenDavid L. Vanderwerken was born in Canastota, New York on October 29, 1945, the only son and only child of Harriet and Leon Vanderwerken. At an early age David developed a love for both sports, and reading and writing, all of which shaped his life.

Like most boys of his generation David enjoyed all sports. He played football, basketball, and baseball but his true love was baseball. He was a left handed hitting catcher with a picture perfect swing. While at Canastota High School he participated in Colgate Seminar, graduated as a member of the top ten, and won a Regents Scholarship.

While in school, David was mentored by several teachers who influenced him throughout his life. One of them was Ron Metzger, who was a sixth grade teacher. Another was Doris Lawson, who was his eighth grade English teacher. However, the most important influence on David was Robert Keenan, who worked at Canastota for a relatively brief period but was a tremendous English teacher. David idolized Bob and I believe patterned himself, in part, after him. Mr. Keenan instilled a love of literature in David even greater than he already possessed. Another teacher that had a profound effect on David was Pinky Schmidt his high school football coach. Pinky influenced a generation of Canastota men. During Colgate Seminar David was exposed to Professor Jonathan Kistler, a brilliant and dynamic teacher.

All freshmen at Colgate in those years had Professor Kistler for first year English. One of theVanderwerken Yearkbook things he taught was Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which he really brought to life. David loved it.

David entered Colgate University in the fall of 1964. He actually lived on my floor in East Hall the first year. Thereafter he became a member of Kappa Delta Rho fraternity, where he lived for his remaining years. David did very well at Colgate. His goal was to become an English Professor and he worked diligently toward that goal at all times, with laser focus, and was undeterred. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa at Colgate.

Following Colgate he entered Rice University in Houston, Texas where he received his MA and Ph.D. in English. He began a 43 year research and teaching career at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth in 1971. While at TCU he taught courses in 20th century American Literature and started a course in Sports Literature. He taught classes on William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, the Jazz Age, the American Dream and developed Jewish American Literature and Sports Literature programs, which were among the most popular at TCU according to the Registrar. Shortly before he retired in 2014 he developed and taught the American Short Story course for the first time.

David received the Chancellor’s Award for distinguished teaching at TCU. He was a founding member of the Sports Literature Association and Fulbright Scholar to Hungary in 2005 and 2008. He taught at the University of Debrecen. After 2005 he was asked back to teach again in 2008. His students loved him and referred to him as “Dr.V”.

He was the author of three books, wrote and delivered many conference papers and his scholarship appeared in the American Literature Journal, the Journal of Modern Fiction, and Studies of Twentieth Century Literature.

David was never afraid of new things and had an inquisitive mind. At various junctures in his career he served as Chairman of TCU’s English Department. When he retired in September 2014, he was granted Emeritus status from TCU.

David died of cancer on January 25, 2015. He is survived by his wife, Karen, who now resides in San Diego, California with her daughter Shari and son-in-law Greg Green. David’s mother, Harriet, passed away only last year. He is also survived by two sons, Brian and Eric, who live in Texas.

David was a self-made man who exemplifies what the Wall of Distinction award means. It is not meant merely to honor the recipients although that is a worthy goal. It is meant to be both aspirational and inspirational for students at Canastota High, and David’s life and career exemplify those goals to a great degree.

David will be missed at both TCU and Canastota although he has not been back to live in Canastota since he left for Colgate in the fall of 1964. During those ensuing years his work influenced two generations of students. He will be missed by those who knew and loved him. David is a credit to Canastota High.