Vanderburg Elementary named for veteran administrator

Because of the type of person he was and the impression he made, John C. Vanderburg’s name carried enough weight on its own to warrant a school being named for him.

But his wife, Lou Vanderburg, remembers the night the Clark County School District discussed his name being added to a school.

“The room was overflowing with people,” she said. “It gives me chills thinking about it. I wish he was around to see it.”

John Vanderburg was born in Texas in 1933.

He received his bachelor’s and master’s from Austin State College in Texas and began teaching in Longview, Texas. That is also where he met his future wife.

“We met on a blind date and just hit it off,” she said.

She remembers him loving to dance. It was one of the many things that attracted her to him.

“ ‘Proud Mary’ was his song,” she said.

The two married and started a life together.

They moved to Clark County in 1968 for Vanderburg to work at Gibson Middle School. From there, he transferred to Orr Middle School, where he later became an assistant principal.

In 1979, he became the vice principal at Bonanza High School.

“He was a dedicated assistant principal,” she said. “The kids loved him. He would bend over backward for them because he cared so much.”

Children at school would always get a thrill out of seeing Vanderburg out on the dance floor at school dances.

He was promoted to principal in 1981, working at Guinn Middle School.

“While he was there, he helped the school become one of the nation’s highest education honors,” his wife said. “The school received President Reagan’s School of Excellence Award. It was the first time a school in Clark County ever received that honor.”

During his time in Clark County, Vanderburg also was affiliated with organization such as the Nevada State Education Association, the National Education Association and Phi Delta Kappa.

If he had any free time — his wife joked he never had any — he loved to travel, hunt deer and fish.

“He was an excellent cook,” Lou Vanderburg said.

Vanderburg died in 1983 when he was 50.

In 1989, the school naming committee for the Clark County School District looked into naming a school for Vanderburg. People wrote in on his behalf.

“Many administrators, like me, can trace our skills to the capable training that John gave us,” Wayne Tanaka, now a retired educator and principal, said in a letter to the committee.

Tanaka, who is the namesake for Wayne Tanaka Elementary School, also wrote that he had a chance to observe Vanderburg during his time at Bonanza High School and Guinn Middle School.

“John earned the respect of students, parents, teachers and other administrators through his leadership and his humanistic way of handling problems,” Tanaka continued in his letter. “I personally tried to emulate this humanism in my administrative style.”

The dedication ceremony for his school, 2040 Desert Shadow Trail, took place Feb. 20, 1997.

Lou Vanderburg said school officials such as Dr. Carolyn Reedom, who served as principal at Vanderburg, spoke on his behalf.

His dedication to education lives on through the achievements the school has made, receiving top ranks in science, math and language arts, she said.

Vanderburg is also home to the Rainforest Biosphere, a 3,200-square-foot indoor science facility that houses live animals, artifacts and laboratories.

Lou Vanderburg was excited when her husband’s school received the national Blue Ribbon Award of Academic Excellence in 2012.

“He would be proud to see his school,” she said.

Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at or 702-387-5201.

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