Clarence VanDyke Jr., 82, of Boothwyn, who juggled careers as a Navy administrator and a pastor, died Friday, May 4, of Alzheimer's disease at his home.

Clarence VanDyke Jr., seen with Navy Commander L.T. Maley at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
Courtesy of the family
Clarence VanDyke Jr., seen with Navy Commander L.T. Maley at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

Rev. VanDyke spent a decade working at the Naval Shipyard in South Philadelphia. He started out as a messenger in 1960 and was quickly promoted to file supervisor and then management technician. In 1969, he was assigned as a counselor to Project Value, a U.S. Department of Defense-sponsored program to prepare high-school dropouts and the underserved for military service.

While at the shipyard, Rev. VanDyke was honored with a superior-accomplishment award and three letters of appreciation. His granddaughter LeTisha M. Thompson said it was not Rev. VanDyke's style to reveal his achievements or awards.  "He didn't talk much. He just got to work," she said. "It goes to show you, you don't always have to be a leader to lead."

In 1970, Mr. VanDyke left the shipyard to become administrative officer for the Northern Division Naval Facilities Engineering Command, part of the Philadelphia Naval Base. In 1971, he was named director of administrative services for the Naval Air Engineering Center. At 36, he was the youngest director in the center's history, said the July 1971 Northern Star, a Navy publication.

Rev. VanDyke, who was known as "Van," told the publication the job was challenging. "I've always believed in the old saying 'If a task is once begun, never leave it till it's done. If be labor great or small, do it well or not at all.' "

From 1974 to 1990, when he retired, Rev. VanDyke was the equal employment and personnel director for the Philadelphia Naval Regional Medical Center and the Naval Medical Material Support Command. Over the course of his Navy career, he received the Navy Meritorious Service Award and 20 other distinguished-service awards, his granddaughter said.

While busy with his Navy job, Rev. VanDyke found time to become a clergyman. At age 9, he was baptized in the Baptist church and in 1959, he joined Bethany Baptist Church in Chester, where he became a deacon and later an associate pastor.

His schooling supported his parallel careers. He earned a bachelor's degree in administration from what is now Neumann University and a master of divinity degree with accreditation to conduct marriage and family counseling from Palmer Theological Seminary. He was ordained as a minister.

Starting in 1988 and ending only when ill health intervened, he offered his services as an interim pastor at several Presbyterian churches throughout Philadelphia and Delaware County. His final assignment was at Thomas M. Thomas Memorial Presbyterian Church in Chester.

"He had two rules," said his granddaughter. "Take care of family and home, and get an education."

Born to Anna Acosta and Clarence VanDyke Sr. in Kansas City, Mo., Mr. VanDyke was one of three children. His mother died while he was young and his father was away serving in the Army, so he lived with extended family in Kansas City, Mo., and then Dallas. He graduated from Lincoln High School in Dallas, where he ran track and sang in the school choir.

Mr. VanDyke was accepted to all three military academies with nominations from then U.S. Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, who later became president.

Following the example of his soldier-father, Mr. VanDyke enlisted in the Air Force in 1954. He accepted an appointment to the Air Force Officer Candidate School in San Antonio, Texas, where he was commissioned a second lieutenant. After graduating, he was assigned to Dover, Del., Air Force Base as an administrative supervisor.

In 1958, just days before Mr. VanDyke completed his Air Force service, he attended a party in Chester. There he met Ollie Rae Brincefield. They married in June 1958 and began their life together in Chester. Later, they moved to Boothwyn. They had one daughter.

Mr. VanDyke was active as an adult committee member with the Boy Scouts and he volunteered for many years at the YMCA in Chester. He wrote news stories for the Delaware County Daily Times in 1959 and 1960.

In addition to his wife and granddaughter, he is survived by a daughter, Vena M. Thompson; five other grandchildren, Kevin Thompson, Michael Thompson, Erica Spriggs, Shantell Copeland, and Brianna Copeland; nine great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews. A brother and sister died earlier.

Funeral services were May 12.

Memorial donations may be made to Cityteam Chester, a Christian nonprofit that helps the poor and homeless, via www.cityteam.org/chester/.