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AMerican Veteran 11

       


Virgil H. Vonder Haar

May 18, 1926 ~ July 31, 2019 (age 93)

Remembering our Dad. Living his legacy.
Generosity. Kindness. Integrity. Love of family. Faithfulness to God. These are among the strong values and lived actions that marked our father Virgil’s entire life and have become the legacy of his 9 children, 16 grandchildren, and 17 great grandchildren. All of you who knew him encountered a gentle man of wit and wisdom, compassion and congeniality, and genuine interest in who you are and how you were doing.
Dad’s life ended at age 93, quietly and peacefully, taking his leave from us after almost two years of residence at Laclede Groves long-term care and just over a year in hospice care as prostate cancer moved to his bones and as Alzheimers took its hold on him. Dad never complained about the physical pain and challenges, and he retained his love of life, family, faith, and laughter through it all these past 2 years. 
But the sum of his life is not to be found in these last years. His was a rich, full, and event-filled life surrounded by family. Though his own mother Rose died in 1926 when he was only 6 months old, he had the loving care of his father Joe, and his young siblings Elvera, LaVerne (Nonnie), Doris, and Roland. Next door on Bridge Avenue in South St. Louis lived his Aunt Louise and Uncle Charlie who cared for him till age 5, and to our Dad they were always “Mom” and “Pop” and to us kids, “Grandma and Grandpa Schulte.”
Dad loved his years at St. Boniface grade school playing with his many Vonder Haar and Schnieder cousins, serving Mass as an altar boy, and riding his bike around with his beloved dog Skeeter in the handlebar basket. He loved going with his dad on Sundays to Tower Grove baseball fields to watch his dad play slow-pitch softball and some evenings to Porky’s Tavern on Weber road to watch the men play horseshoes and cork ball. Dad once told us he really only had one big regret about his dad—When he was about 12, he was asked by his own father if he wanted to go to a St. Louis Browns baseball game with him, but our dad “… was mad at him about something, so I turned him down. I later realized how much that hurt my dad, and I’ve always wished I could get that day back.” 
His adolescent years found him at South Side Catholic boys high school where he was a straight-A student, discovered his clarinet ability, played in the first SSHS band, excelled in Latin, and was awarded a certificate (belatedly by St. Mary’s High School in 2003!) for 4 years of perfect attendance. He spent his time those years also working at his Uncle Bill’s small truck farm tending tomato plants, Bud Eilers bait and tackle shop digging up worms and doing odd jobs, and driving his sister Nonnie’s car often transporting her to work and doctor appointments. 
 In 1944, as WWII was waging—just before his high school graduation and 18th birthday—he got his father Joe to sign off permission to join the U.S. Navy.  
Dad described going off to the Navy as presenting some of the most challenging yet exciting times of his life. His first stop was Chicago’s Great Lakes Naval Station for basic training. Our Dad, hoping to avoid jobs like KP and guard duty, signed up for the Naval Choir which he loved, especially performing at Soldier Field that summer 1944. Traveling by train and ship after his training, Dad spent several weeks in San Francisco and San Diego, CA, before being shipped out, first on the SS Frederick Billings, a liberty ship and later on the USS Slater, a destroyer escort. Dad had a few positions during his 2-year service at the end of WWII: as a gunner (we nicknamed him “Gunner” in his later years); as a typist and record-keeper on the Slater. He spent time in India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) , and the Phillipines; he crossed the equator and got the traditional Navy shaved head (but no tatoos). 
Dad was able to make significant Navy-related trips later in his life, trips that he treasured and talked about frequently almost till the day he died: 1) his visits to the restored USS Slater –now a floating museum docked in Albany, NY, where a couple summers he volunteered and attended Slater reunions; 2) his Honor Flight trip in 2010 to the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC, accompanied by his daughter Janice. Dad’s Navy stories are plentiful, moving, and entertaining-- and will keep us in admiration and laughter for a long time to come.
At age 20, Virgil began in earnest his career, both as a driver and salesman at the family-owned company Vonder Haar Sand & Gravel (later Vonder Haar Concrete Company). Availing himself of the new “GI Bill,” he enrolled in night school at St. Louis University majoring in business. Somewhere in that demanding schedule, he found time for a social life especially through local parish young adult CYC programs: bowling, playing softball and volleyball, and attending basketball and football games at SLU. On one of these sports occasions—a volleyball game at Porky’s Tavern—he along with some of his other buddies, was encouraged to join “all those young girls playing volleyball out back.” One girl immediately caught his eye: Dolores “Doddie” Power, an athletic player and recent graduate of St. John’s High School, who herself caught a glimpse of Virgil. That was the beginning of their dating, the love of his life, and ultimately a nearly 50-year marriage.
Virgil and Doddie were married at St. George Church in Affton on June 25, 1949. Dad continued working and completed his bachelors degree from SLU in 2 years. They moved to a tiny apartment on Bellevue Avenue in Richmond Heights, where in 1950 their first child, Mary Lou, was born. Within the next 4 years their family expanded to 4 more little girls, Christine, Jeanne, Laura and Janice, and they built a new, much larger permanent home on 3 lots in Affton where their family continued to grow over the years with the birth of 4 sons: Joseph, Richard, Roland, and the “baby,” Virgil John. From 1954 to the day Dad was moved to Laclede Groves in 2017, he lived, played, partied, worked, and raised his family in this beloved home on Harlan Avenue. 
Dad’s career as a concrete man, innovative and forward-thinking in concrete construction, began to be noticed. He was known as a business man of integrity and honesty. His company, small though it was in the St. Louis area, expanded as Dad studied techniques, gave dozens of mini-workshops and breakfast meetings around the area, introducing techniques of quality concrete construction and new uses of concrete such as tilt-up and pre-fab construction, colored concrete, exposed aggragate design, and others. He became a supporter of and contributor to Concrete Construction Magazine. Eventually, through his active contributions to and involvement in the St. Louis Concrete Council and the National Ready-Mix Association, Dad was recognized by his peers and presented with the first-ever “Mr. Concrete Award” for his excellence and leadership in 1994. This was followed by several other recognitions throughout the remainder of his career.
In 1986, due to a number of very challenging job-related events, Dad was offered a CEO position with 4X Corporation in Wisconsin and asked our mom Doddie what she thought about moving to Appleton, WI. She enthusiastically agreed, and by August they were moved into their new condo—and new life together—450 miles from everyone and every place they had known all their lives in St. Louis. Dad immediately immersed himself in the company’s needs, development, and growth, all with his life-long attitudes of positivity, integrity, and service. These same dispositions he carried to a very active life he and our mom had with their new Catholic parish, St. Bernard, where Dad was a lector and Eucharistic minister, a bible study regular, unofficial videographer, and donor of audio and video religious recordings to the parish library. He started a Saturday morning “Breakfast Club” with some of the elderly couples attending Mass, often driving those who needed rides or physical assistance. He was the founder of a project he named “Poor of Poland;” each year between 1991 and 2012 he collected mounds of candy, clothing, medical supplies, and other needed materials for orphanages, schools, elder care, and many others in Poland where his daughter Christine lived and worked 1990-92.  
Dad’s generosity of spirit, time, and talents were evident in every aspect of his life. We never experienced that spirit more than when our mother died suddenly of a stroke in 1998. Though we were all in shock at the loss of our mother, our Dad took on the task of being both father and mother to us all. Though he continued to live and work in Appleton, and though his 9 children lived in 5 different states after mom’s death, he made sure to visit us all regularly, spend time with us, plan his Christmases and holidays with us, and email us weekly his “Monday Morning Greetings” sharing his own activities and next plans, asking about ours, and always giving us some bits of laughter and wit.
In 2004, after a terrible fire in his Appleton condo, he moved permanently to St. Louis sharing the Harlan childhood home with our brother Virg who lovingly undertook daily care of our father, especially in these more recent years when he was diagnosed with Alzheimers as well as these past 2 years when Dad could no longer be cared for at his home at Harlan. Virgil John was his constant buddy, along with all of us other siblings in visiting Dad: one of us was always by his side for some time each day at Laclede Groves.
For those of you who knew our dad Virgil, you recall no doubt his tremendous kindness, congeniality, and generosity. His attitude toward the simplest joys in life are reflected in a phrase he spoke to Sr. Jeanne Marie: “Even the most ordinary day can be filled with extraordinary moments.” 
We will miss Dad’s physical presence -- and all the extraordinary moments and gifts he brought to our lives. 

 

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