By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Dale Vander Linden of Delano doesn’t call himself a rocket scientist, but after years of aerospace engineering work, he’s about as close as they come.
After graduation from Iowa State University in 1961, Vander Linden put his electrical engineering degree to work at Rockwell International Incorporated in California.
He became friends with the astronauts on the Apollo 1 spacecraft mission, including Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, who died in the launchpad fire.
“It was pretty traumatic,” he said.
Vander Linden’s favorite job was at Ball Aerospace in Colorado, working with satellite technology.
“It was probably the most challenging and interesting,” he said.
From 2004 to 2005, Vander Linden worked as a contract engineer for Lockheed Martin in New Orleans.
Because of the loss of space shuttle Columbia in 2003, he and other engineers needed to redesign the fuel tanks on space shuttles to minimize foam loss. According to www.space.com, a piece of foam on the Columbia broke free 81 seconds into flight, knocking a hole in its left wing.
Vander Linden said he enjoyed his work at Lockheed Martin, as well as life in Louisiana.
“It was just a blast living in New Orleans,” he said. “Number one was the food. “I didn’t find anything I didn’t like.”
“Shrimp was dirt cheap,” he added, selling for about a fourth of the price people pay in Minnesota.
After Vander Linden’s contract at Lockheed Martin was over, he and his wife of 53 years, Mary Kay, moved back to Delano.
Their first move to Delano was from 1968 to 1981. Then, they rented out their house for 11 years, returning in 1992. Vander Linden did contract work until 2005.
Vander Linden is now retired, and enjoys spending time with his four sons, 11 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He also has two more great-grandchildren on the way.
One of Vander Linden’s granddaughters, Becky, is married to Minnesota Twins pitcher Jesse Crain.
Eric Pendleton, one of Vander Linden’s grandsons, served in the Marine Corps, doing two combat tours in Iraq.
Vander Linden is active in the Delano community as a long-time Lions Club member, Toastmaster, and American Legion member, and is involved in the VFW, Delano Dream Team II, and the Disabled American Veterans.
“I like to feel that I can make a contribution, and I enjoy interacting with people,” he said.
Vander Linden is also part of two writers’ groups, and hopes to write a historical autobiography for his children and grandchildren, to “give them a picture of what life was like when I was a kid,” he said.
Growing up the youngest of nine boys, Vander Linden has a wealth of stories to share. His father was a sharecropper in Iowa, and they moved from farm to farm.
“With a big family, we had very few toys, and what we had was handmade,” he said.
The boys also found creative ways to entertain themselves outdoors, with at-home rodeos, clubhouses, and other projects.
“There were plenty of ways to invent things you shouldn’t do,” he laughed.
Vander Linden’s oldest brothers also have fascinating stories to tell about moving west to find work during the Great Depression, he said. Some of Vander Linden’s brothers worked for author Zane Grey in California, finding work on fruit orchards and potato fields.
He also recalls his brothers’ stories about strapping 14 tires to their Model T, and having all 14 used up by the time they got to their destination.
“I find what these guys did so enthralling,” he said. “I’m hoping my kids and grandkids will be interested in what I did, as well.”