GLENVIEW, ILL.—“He always smiled. He was always upbeat and optimistic, and he was a wonderful colleague,” said Jack Love, friend and longtime associate of Robert Vander Werf. After an illustrious career that spanned half a century, Vander Werf waged a courageous battle with cancer and succumbed to the disease Oct. 21, his 77th birthday.
Born in 1933 in Michigan, he attended high school in Wyoming Park, where he was an outstanding athlete. He later attended Central Michigan University and after graduation in 1955 he joined the Armed Forces, where he served for two years. When he returned to civilian life, he spent two years teaching and then decided to pursue a career in sales. The year was 1960 and he was ready to seek his future in the floor covering industry.
That year, Vander Werf joined Alexander Smith as a salesman and he learned about the industry and honed his selling skills, earning promotions and assuming greater responsibilities. In 1963, he accepted a position with Trend Mills and soon became Midwest regional manager. Six years later he accepted an executive position with General Felt Industries and remained with the company 15 years. In 1980, he joined Mohawk Industries and was named the executive in charge of its Galaxy division.
In March 2004, Vander Werf, affectionately known as “Coach,” was honored by the Chicago Floorcovering Association for his outstanding achievements and many contributions to the industry. The event was a rousing success and raised $10,000 for the Floor Covering Industry Foundation, a tribute to Vander Werf and the high esteem in which he was held. He retired in 2009.
“Bob had a long and distinguished career in the flooring industry. He did his job with integrity, passion and always a splash of humor,” Love said. “He was a true professional and had a lighthearted air about him. He was one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. If I had to list the 10 best times in my life, Bob Vander Werf would be included in nine of them. He will be greatly missed.”
Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Barbara; sons Scott and Brian and his wife, Tracy; two granddaughters and a sister.