John Vander Molen, a long-time school board member and a tireless advocate for public education, died suddenly on May 11 while working outside, according to media reports. He was 76.

Active as a board of education member since the mid-1970s, Vander Molen was vice president of the Manchester Regional High School Board of Education when he died. A resident of Prospect Park, Passaic County, Vander Molen also was active with the Passaic County School Boards Association, and he served on the New Jersey School Boards Association’s Board of Directors and was a member of the NJSBA’s Legislative Committee.

But he was not interested in winning accolades or establishing records for service. He just wanted to do right by the kids, said Daniel Vander Molen, his youngest son, told the Bergen Record of Hackensack.

“He was always dedicated to education,” Vander Molen, a high school social studies teacher, told the Record. Valdo Panzera, president of the Manchester Regional school board, said trustees planned to observe a moment of silence at their meeting last week.

Flags were also lowered to half-staff in front of Borough Hall and at the high school in Haledon. “He looked at things at all different angles,” Panzera said about Vander Molen. “He was a fair person. He was very fair.”

Born in Passaic, Vander Molen was raised in Clifton and later moved to Prospect Park, where he lived for 49 years, according to an obituary published by the Vander Plaat Funeral Home.  He was a postal worker for 44 years. He made a point of getting to know everyone on his route.

He was dedicated to the children of the communities in which he lived by serving on multiple school boards and associations for 46 years, including Prospect Park, Manchester Regional, Passaic County, and the NJSBA.

“John and I had many conversations about the need to reach every student,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “He believed that whatever challenges a student may present, it is the job of the school system to ensure every child reaches his or her potential.”

He is survived by his loving wife, Wilma (nee Van Gent), to whom he was married for 52 years.  He was a devoted father to his four children and their spouses, and seven grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to:

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
“Ethan’s Team”
111 Littleton Road, Suite 221
Parsippany, NJ 07054