Dr. David Vanderwerken, a retired emeritus professor of English, is being remembered this week for his generosity, humor and intellect.
Dr. Vanderwerken, 69, died from small cell lung cancer Saturday.
“Professor Vanderwerken was a Horned Frog for over 40 years,” David A. Colón, an associate professor of English, wrote in an email. “His knowledge, warmth and personality inside the classroom and out were without peer.”
A memorial for Dr. Vanderwerken, who was known as “Dr. V.,” is scheduled for Thursday at 2 p.m. in the Brown-Lupton University Union Ballroom.
The campus learned of his death Monday via email from the chancellor’s office. By Tuesday, his widow, Karen Vanderwerken, said she had received over 400 emails and letters offering memories and condolences.
She said she is “overwhelmed with the true love and respect from all these many people.”
She said she and her husband were “at peace” with his death.
“He didn’t want to die, but he wasn’t sad about it either,” Mrs. Vanderwerken said. “It was like, ‘Let’s make the most of it. Eat good food, drink good wine.’”
Mrs. Vanderwerken said most of the emails and letters have been testimonies to his intelligence, humor, generosity and kindness.
“His family knew these things,” she said. “He prepared harder than anybody I’ve ever seen. There’s integrity there. We knew that other people knew that, but not to this overwhelming consistency.”
Mrs. Vanderwerken said she plans to keep the emails and letters she has received, especially for their 14-month-old granddaughter Emma.
Lisa Cooper-Kirby, a TCU graduate student, wrote: “He really was the first professor who believed in me, saw something in my writing and encouraged me to go to graduate school.”
Mrs. Vanderwerken said she got the impression from Dr. V’s students and colleagues that his classes were very popular, not because they were easy; but because they were challenging, yet interesting.
She said he realized the need for fun outside of school.
“He was the one to lock his students’ stuff in the drawer and say, ‘Okay, see you in a few days,’” Mrs. Vanderwerken said.
She described him as kind and terribly fun, but was sure to mention that you had to pay attention to what he said because “they were zingers.”
In a letter to Mrs. Vanderwerken, Dr. Jane Kucko, the director of the Center for International Studies: TCU Abroad, shared her memories of Dr. V.
“We’d see each other as we’d walk to our offices and I can honestly tell you that there wasn’t a time that we spoke that I didn’t laugh. What a gift,” Kucko said.
Dr. Neil Easterbrook from the TCU English department wrote, “He is the avatar, the very embodiment of the teacher-scholar model.”
Dr. Vanderwick scored 4.2 / 5.0 for overall quality on ratemyprofessors.com.
Other achievements included the AddRan College of Liberal Arts Award for Distinguished Achievement and the third ever Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sports Literature Association.
“He mattered,” Mrs. Vanderwerken said. She said the emails and letters she’s received have come from all over the world.
She insisted on mentioning her husband’s love of fishing. “We’ve got to have something about fishing or I’ll be in trouble with him.”
She then read a letter she received from Dr. Ulf Kirchdorfer, an English professor at Darton State College: “David is now in some place where he can fly fish, cast over and over and the beautiful trout with names only he knows will take the bait, take it again, and they will be happy and David will be happy.”
“This was important because he’d always throw the fish back,” Mrs. Vanderwerken said.
She said that a quote that captured her husband’s essence, aside from all things William Faulkner, was from “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”