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Getting to Know: Al VanderBerg

Tribune Staff • Sep 10, 2016 at 11:00 AM

This is part of a regular feature, which will normally run on Saturdays, and will appear on the pages of the Grand Haven Tribune and online at grandhaventribune.com. We’ll sit down with a local personality and ask them several questions.

This week, we’re featuring Al VanderBerg.

What’s your current job? Ottawa County administrator.

Readers would be surprised to learn that: My first two years of college were spent at Muskegon Community College on a jazz scholarship playing lead tenor sax.

If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, who would you pick and why? I would want to have dinner with Adolphe Sax, Belgian inventor of the saxophone. This brilliant guy invented or improved numerous musical instruments, and also had patents of items in the medical field and even designed a massive bomb for use by the military.

What’s the coolest place you’ve ever visited? New York City, Manhattan. So many great things to see and do. Central Park, museums, Broadway and off-Broadway shows, Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty are all fantastic. Ground Zero provides the sobering reality of the great dangers of the world we live in as well.

What are your hobbies? I have many. I teach at GVSU and GRCC, and I also enjoy family and local history research, boating, swimming, fishing, camping, and hiking, etc.

What’s your favorite restaurant? My favorite is Neptune’s Net, which is a great seafood restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Calif.

Favorite book? “Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech that Made Abraham Lincoln President,” by Harold Holzer. This book vividly portrays a period in American history when the general populace was very passionate and involved in the political/governmental process.

What class was the most beneficial to you? Logic at the University of Michigan — many math- and language-related concepts fell into place in my brain as a result of taking that class.

Have you ever met any celebrities? I met Bob Dole about 20 years ago and shook his left hand because he lost the use of his right arm during World War II when he was hit by an artillery explosion. I met Kareem Abdul-Jabbar just this summer. It was surreal to shake the hand that I watched launch the sky hook so many times for so many years.

What’s your can’t-live-without piece of technology? My smartphone. It is amazing to stop and think about the things I either couldn’t do or did much slower and inefficiently before the advent of the smartphone.

What’s your favorite app? I read a lot and still like the feel of a real book in my hands, but I also purchase a lot of books through iBooks which makes reading while traveling, waiting in lines, etc., much easier.

If you weren’t in your current position, what would you like to do? I love my job and local government management career that has spanned over 32 years. If I couldn’t do that, I would want to be a stockbroker in New York City.

If you could travel back in time to any certain era or event, when/where would you pick and why? I would want to be at the Battle of Gettysburg. I participated in the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg as a re-enactor with 11,000 others, but this was just a fraction of the fire power that was present at the real battle, which was a turning point in the Civil War.

Who was the biggest influence on your life? My dad, Gil Vanderberg, who was a GHHS teacher for 40 years. He taught me how to be a man, to have a sense of humor and to not take myself too seriously. He probably doesn’t think he did real well with college sports team affiliation, as he is a die-hard Spartan and I am a Wolverine, though I did complete my MPA at State.

What’s your favorite movie or TV show? Of current TV shows, my favorite is “Criminal Minds.” I like the plot twists and use of technology to solve cases.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Never quit. Talent and brains will only take a person so far, those that achieve typically work extra-hard to get there.

What do you love about West Michigan? The people and the natural resources. West Michigan people are hard workers, smart, innovative, caring and stand out from many other places for their willingness to give of their time, talents and/or treasure to better the community. Natural resources, need I say more? Lake Michigan, the Grand River, along with other rivers, lakes, sand dunes and the best park system in the state make Ottawa a preferred choice for those who want to live, work and play in this great county!

Do you have any pets? We currently have three cats: Boots, Bella and Lucy, who are great, though I still consider myself more of a “dog person.”

What’s at the top of your bucket list? I’m very slowly writing a book on the commercial fishing of West Michigan, predominantly Grand Haven and Muskegon. I’ve researched the Dutch genealogy of many of the early fishermen and at the top of my bucket list is a visit to the Netherlands to see some of the places that I am writing about in the book prior to publishing it.

What’s your pet peeve? When drivers pull up way past the stop sign at a four-way stop, thus making the completion of a left turn in front of them much more difficult. 

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