Friday, January 15, 2016

Naval Academy Sponsor, Volunteer Leaves Legacy of Selflessness

By Jessica Clark

Naval Academy sponsor families provide more than just a bed to sleep in on liberty and a full refrigerator for hungry midshipmen. When midshipmen and grads talk about their sponsors, they express appreciation not just for the weekend laundry services and the chance to get away from the Yard, but also the mentorship, the genuine care, the home away from home.

No one deserves that appreciation more than John VornDick, who sponsored more than 340 midshipmen and touched the lives of countless others before his death Jan. 12 at age 76.

Photo by Roger Miller

“I have been asked about the impact of John as my sponsor,” said Tim Disher (USNA 1981), director of the Naval Academy’s International Programs Office and one of the many midshipmen VornDick sponsored. “There is no easy response for this since he was someone whose love and support has lasted a lifetime, much like the most cherished of your closest relative.”

“John … was always there for his midshipmen and served as an example of true ‘selflessness,’” said Disher.

VornDick started unofficially sponsoring midshipmen in 1975, before the program was established. His mentorship and dedication is evident in the long list of sponsorees he’s influenced over over a 40-year period, including Marine Expeditionary Force Commander Lt. Gen. John Wissler (USNA ’78), Commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden (USNA ’82), Commander of Naval Air Systems Command Vice Admiral David A. Dunaway (USNA ’82), and Commander of U.S. Southern Command Vice Adm. Kurt Tidd.

“His legacy lives on through all of those sponsor brothers and sisters who have this common bond that John has nurtured for forty years,” said Disher. “I am happy that we will be able to share this for as long as we all live on this Earth.”

Photo by Roger Miller

He sponsored four brigade commanders and numerous company commanders. Five of his sponsorees were presidents of their classes. And many of his midshipmen went on to great achievements, serving as Top Gun instructors, doctors, Marine Corps aides to the president, a Blue Angel pilot and a pilot for the presidential helicopter squadron.

But the memories mean more than the numbers.

“He meant the world to me,” said Cmdr. Craig Mattingly (USNA ‘95), who met VornDick during Plebe Summer chapel services.

VornDick had volunteered with the Naval Academy Chapel since 1983 as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist and head of altar servers.

Having served as an enlisted sailor prior to his appointment to the academy, Mattingly was wearing award ribbons that you wouldn’t typically see on a plebe. When VornDick asked about them, Mattingly jokingly said he picked them up at the exchange because he liked the way they looked on his uniform.

That initial banter led to a life-long relationship. VornDick became Mattingly’s sponsor as he did to hundreds of midshipmen. He served as a surrogate father, a friend, a mentor, and even the best man at Mattingly’s wedding shortly after graduation in 1995.

Mattingly attended church services regularly as a midshipmen and can’t remember a single service that VornDick didn’t attend as well.

“The strength that he had in his faith resonated with his midshipmen, and continues to this day,” said Mattingly. “John was a best friend. John was a mentor. John was everything that you needed when you needed it even though you didn’t know you needed it, without ever showing any sort of discontent or dissatisfaction in anyone he met. He was the most respectful person.”

He always knew when a midshipmen was struggling, either academically or on the playing fields, said Mattingly.

“He had that sixth sense to help people when they didn’t know that they could get help.”

Mattingly said his own hardest year was his third-class year, juggling academics, varsity sailing and his other responsibilities, and VornDick was instrumental in helping him find that balance.

“The impact he had in my plebe year set the foundation for how I did as a midshipman, but also in my naval career, and even how I am as a father,” he said.

More than 2,000 members of the Annapolis community volunteer as sponsors, giving their time and opening their homes to help midshipmen as they progress through four academically and physically rigorous years at the academy.

“The sponsor program at the United States Naval Academy is one of the finest aspects of midshipman support in Annapolis,” said Disher. “No midshipman truly appreciates it until they experience firsthand how the citizens of Annapolis open their homes and hearts to the nation's finest young men and women.”

5 comments:

  1. Thank you for the wonderful story! We are so very grateful for our son's fabulous sponsor family!!!

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  2. John was a true gentleman and leader in all aspects of life. His impact will expand geometrically through the lifelong gifts he gave to USNA Midshipman, USNA and the greater community.

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  3. There are no words to describe the sadness I feel at John's passing. We knew that he wouldn't live forever but his legacy certainly will! His impact on my life and those whom he met cannot be quantified. I am a better man for having known him. His example of selfless service is one to be followed. I cannot thank him enough for what he means to me. I am happy to send him off this Wednesday with the biggest tailgater he has ever had! I am proud to call myself "one of John's guys."

    -Ollie '97

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  4. There are no words to describe the sadness I feel at John's passing. We knew that he wouldn't live forever but his legacy certainly will! His impact on my life and those whom he met cannot be quantified. I am a better man for having known him. His example of selfless service is one to be followed. I cannot thank him enough for what he means to me. I am happy to send him off this Wednesday with the biggest tailgater he has ever had! I am proud to call myself "one of John's guys."

    -Ollie '97

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    ReplyDelete