DENVER (AP) – Former Colorado Gov. John Vanderhoof, a onetime fighter pilot, businessman and bank executive who served as the state’s chief executive for only two years, has died. He was 91.
Vanderhoof, a Republican, became the 37th governor of Colorado in 1973 when his predecessor joined the Nixon administration. However, his tenure as the state’s chief executive was short-lived, as Democrats took control and held the office for 25 years.
Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement Monday that Vanderhoof died on Sept. 19. A cause of death was not specified.
“Gov. Vanderhoof believed in public service and was passionate about leaving his community better off than he found it,” said Hickenlooper, a Democrat. “In that regard and so much more, he was beyond successful.”
A fighter pilot who was shot down in World War II, Vanderhoof left the Navy and joined his father and a brother in the sporting goods business. Five years later, he ran for the Legislature and won.
At the time, his family moved into banking, and he became an executive of Glenwood Industrial Bank and the Bank of Glenwood, which later was sold.
After 20 years in the state House, six as speaker, he was elected lieutenant governor for a four-year term in 1970 as the third-term running mate of Republican Gov. John Love. It was the first Colorado election in which candidates of each party ran as a team.
Vanderhoof became governor when Love left to join the Nixon administration in 1973. He later defeated Denver cable television owner Bill Daniels for the GOP nomination for governor but lost to Democrat Richard Lamm and left office in 1975,
He remained active in business on the Western Slope, moving from Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction.
Vanderhoof may have been best-remembered as the state official who left office with a moon rock worth an estimated $5 million that had been donated to the state by the Nixon administration.
Vanderhoof kept the moon rock in the governor’s office. He said he mistakenly took the rock home in a pile of personal possessions after losing the election to Lamm,
“It was put in with a bunch of stuff I had, I guess,” Vanderhoof said then.
Vanderhoof’s political career might not have happened if not for the crash of a Navy plane hit by Japanese anti-aircraft fire off the Philippines in 1945. He sustained a broken leg when a parachute strap snagged as he bailed out.
He was picked up by a destroyer and eventually went to a Navy hospital at Glenwood Springs.
Vanderhoof was born on May 27, 1922, at Rocky Ford in southeast Colorado. He graduated from high school at Fort Collins, attended Glendale College in California, then joined the Navy aviation program.
Vanderhoof flew fighter planes from the flight decks of the USS Intrepid and USS Bunker Hill from 1943 to 1945.
He recalled flying more than 100 sorties during the war then running into trouble twice in the waning days of the war.
Vanderhoof also was an ardent fisherman. He and Love often went on angling expeditions to Lake Powell in Arizona and Utah.
Vanderhoof and his first wife, Lois, were married in 1943 and divorced in 1970. He and Denver TV personality Merrie Lhynn Junkin later married in Vanderhoof’s office in the Capitol. They divorced several years later.
Vanderhoof suffered a stroke when he was in his 80s.
A private burial in Grand Junction was planned.
– By Steven K. Paulson, AP Writer
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