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UPDATED: Memorial service set for Chancellor Emeritus Vanderhoef

By Dave Jones on October 19, 2015 in University

UPDATED 2:30 p.m. Oct. 19: A celebration of the life of Chancellor Emeritus Larry N. Vanderhoef will be held at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4, in Jackson Hall at the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.

For those unable to be there, the service will be carried live on the Web.

Chancellor Emeritus Vanderhoef died the evening of Oct. 15 at the UC Davis Medical Center.  

The UC flag at the Memorial Union is flying at half-staff all week in his memory, and the city of Davis is doing the same with its flags.


Chancellor Emeritus Larry N. Vanderhoef of the University of California, Davis, died Thursday (Oct. 15) at the age of 74.

His family attributed his death to complications from successive ischemic strokes, starting in November 2012. Since then, as his health permitted, he attended university events, served on multiple university and regional boards, came to his office and finished his memoir, “Indelibly Davis,” which came out last spring.

“Our university has lost a beloved leader, one who gave a quarter-century of his life and more to UC Davis,” said Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, who succeeded Vanderhoef in 2009 after he stepped down. “He built a strong foundation for our university’s service to the state, nation and world.”

He had served as provost and executive vice chancellor from 1984 to 1994 before becoming UC Davis’ fifth chancellor. He held the post for 15 years, becoming one of the nation’s longest serving university leaders, widely credited as a mentor to UC Davis administrators who would go on to other universities to serve as presidents and provosts.

Ralph J. Hexter, UC Davis provost and executive vice chancellor, said Chancellor Emeritus Vanderhoef left a giant imprint on the university. “The entire UC Davis family will miss Larry and his gracious presence tremendously. We will honor him and his memory best by rededicating ourselves to our mission of teaching, research and public service.”

Midwest modesty

While Vanderhoef led UC Davis with the characteristic modesty of his Midwest roots, there was nothing modest about the university’s achievements during his time in Mrak Hall. The university added students and faculty and facilities, brought in more research funding, rose in the rankings and gained admission to the prestigious Association of American Universities.

Dateline UC Davis June 6, 2008: Vanderhoef announces he will step down as chancellor.

In 2006, Vanderhoef launched the university’s first comprehensive campaign, which would ultimately beat its $1 billion goal.

Even before that, Vanderhoef succeeded in raising the money to build the performing arts center that he had promised in his speech after being inaugurated as chancellor. Today, the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts is the centerpiece of his now-realized vision for a dynamic south entry that didn’t exist when Vanderhoef arrived on campus.

The new entry includes the campus’s second quad, named the Vanderhoef Quad on the occasion of his retirement. 

He and his team also transformed the old Sacramento County Hospital after UC Davis bought it for $1. Today it is the home of the UC Davis Medical Center and School of Medicine, surrounding the Vanderhoef Commons, a quadlike area named after him.

The performing arts center and the hospital each got a chapter of their own in his book, “Indelibly Davis: A Quarter-Century of UC Davis Stories … and Backstories.” Other chapters addressed diversity; no-confidence votes; intercollegiate athletics (and the Aggies’ move to Division I); academic diplomacy in Iran; and tough, principled decision-making (“what my dad would call ‘having starch’ ”).

From pool to professor

He was born in Minnesota and reared in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where as a young man he excelled at playing pool. Eventually, he made what he would come to describe as the best decision of his life: “To get out of the pool hall and into the classroom.”

He was the first in his family to finish high school and one of the few in his factory town to go to college — commuting from home and usually holding down a full-time job.

Drawing on his own experience, he would become an advocate for access to higher education. He expanded partnerships with community colleges; established the “Reservation for College” program for disadvantaged children, encouraging them to stay on track with their education; and partnered with leaders of regional communities of color to raise awareness of UC Davis.

Chancellor Emeritus Vanderhoef held bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and a doctorate in plant biochemistry from Purdue University.

He joined the faculty of the University of Illinois, progressing through the ranks from assistant professor in 1970 to professor and department head in 1977. He was appointed provost at the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1980, and began his career at UC Davis four years later.  

He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Society of Plant Biologists.

He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Rosalie Slifka Vanderhoef; daughter Susanne Vanderhoef; son Jon (Kim) Vanderhoef; sisters Lois (Christian) Krenzke and Linda (Curtis) McDermott; brother Lee (Debbie) Vanderhoef; brothers-in-law Andrew (Mavis) and Ronald (Janet) Slifka; and numerous nieces and nephews.

The family asks of people wishing to make memorial contributions, to please consider either the Larry N. Vanderhoef Scholarship for Study Abroad or the Larry N. Vanderhoef Staff Scholarship. Contributions may be made online or by mail to UC Davis Advancement Services, 1460 Drew Ave., Suite 100, Davis 95618 (checks should be made payable to the UC Davis Foundation, with the scholarship’s name designated on the memo line).

A university memorial service will be announced when plans are confirmed.

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,