George Vande Woude Jr. ’57
George F. Vande Woude Jr. was born on December 25, 1935 to Alice Leudesdorff VandeWoude and George F. Vande Woude Sr. in Brooklyn, NY. He spent his childhood in Queens Village, NY, just a few blocks from Dorothy “Dot” Stapel, who became his wife in 1959.
By all accounts George was a mischievous and inquisitive child; for example, once he surprised his family by putting limburger cheese in his mom’s banana cream pie. George’s interest in science was foreshadowed by his successful rearing of a colony of hamsters in his basement. When his younger sister Sue accidently freed several dozen animals from their cages, George invented a ladder-and-bucket contraption to capture all of them.
George attended Hope College in Holland, MI for one year before enlisting in the U.S. Army, where he was stationed in Baumholder, Germany. He subsequently completed his bachelor’s degree at Hofstra University in New York, working his way through college by driving a beer truck and operating a floor waxing company with his brother Michael. George completed M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Biochemistry and a Physical Chemistry minor at Rutgers University and was employed at the Plum Island Animal Disease Laboratory from 1964-72, where he studied Foot and Mouth Disease Virus.
In 1971, George accepted a job at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland. Loathe to leave the beach community of Southold, NY with their four young daughters, George and Dorothy made the intrepid decision to move to a working farm in Berryville, Virginia. This couple from New York successfully integrated into the small town community and built a custom beef field-to-table operation. Dot managed the day-to-day farm operations as George commuted the 60+ miles from Berryville to Bethesda every day to his job at NCI.
He navigated this commute for over a decade in a series of Volkswagen hatchbacks that he rebuilt in the barn on weekends. George’s career blossomed as he became the Director of Advanced Biosciences Laboratories at NCI in 1983, was appointed in 1995 as the Director of NCI’s Division of Basic Sciences, and in 1999 was named Founding Director of the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, MI.
George’s high-impact contribution led to novel therapies for cancer treatment. His many accolades, including election to the National Academy of Sciences (1993), American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006), American Association for Cancer Research Academy (2013) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2013), are well-documented in other extensive biographies. His colleagues unanimously agree George had an empathetic, generous personality, and contagious enthusiasm for conducting innovative science. George loved mentoring young scientists, and was particularly proud of organizing the first ‘Oncogene Meeting’, in 1985, which subsequently occurred annually for 20 years. This highly successful international cancer research meeting was programmed to promote interactions among junior and senior scientists.
Beyond his scientific achievements, George was also known for hosting many visitors at Stoneridge Farm and giving hayrides to international scientists, extended family, and children of all ages. George had a remarkable list of other talents which include rebuilding hog pens, fixing farm equipment, cutting wood, keeping bees, and refinishing furniture. George was an exuberant dancer, a practical joker and enjoyed hunting and fishing, even if the bounty was not plentiful. George boasted that he ‘always wanted to be surrounded by beautiful women’ when he spoke about his four daughters and wife Dorothy.
George passed away in Grand Rapids, MI on April 13, 2021 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was predeceased by his wife Dorothy, mother Alice, father George, brother Theodore, and sister-in-law Diane. He is survived by daughter Sue VandeWoude and son-in-law Edward Hoover of Fort Collins, CO; daughter Gail Vande Woude of Orlando, FL; daughter Cindy Vande Woude of Grand Rapids, MI; daughter Alice Fens and son-in-law Pete of Berryville, VA; grandchildren Eric, Eston and Sarah Schweickart, Johnny and Peter Fens, and Peter’s wife Taylor, brother Michael Vande Woude and wife Nancy, sister Sue Birdsall and husband Dave, and many nieces and nephews.