Dean Lavern Vettrus, 86, of Moscow, passed away Friday, April 17, 2020, following a long, challenging battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Anyone having the privilege and pleasure of knowing Dean will always remember him as a gentleman with a twinkle in his eye, a smile on his face and some affectionate prank up his sleeve. His love for people was exemplified by the hundreds who knew and appreciated him as a part of their life. He is remembered as an eternal optimist who could create, build or fix most anything; a problem solver, hard worker, and a “can do” kind of guy. He loved life and knew no stranger.
Dean was born, along with his twin brother, Dennis, to John and Nora Vettrus on April 10, 1934, in Rugby, N.D. His earliest years were spent on the family farm raising 300 hogs.
The Vettrus family headed west to California when Dean was 13. He and his brother were enrolled in a Los Angeles public school wearing their clean overalls, as they had in their one-room country school house in Rollette, N.D. Much to their surprise, the city classmates had words for these country boys and, needless to say, farm boys fend for themselves, which put them in the principal’s office. The result was Dean and his brother visited many social study classes teaching the city kids about life on the farm. Those overalls did not reappear at school.
Following four years in California, the family moved to Salem, Ore., and Dean completed his high school years at Cascade High School in Turner, Ore. As the Korean War was nearing its end and the Vietnam War was about to begin, Dean and his brother enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Four years aboard the USS Montrose, Dean specialized in food service, becoming the chef for the officers.
After an honorable discharge, Dean searched universities for a good hotel and restaurant management program. He and his brother went to the University of Denver, where Dean met the love of his life, Phyllis Jean Carlson. Along with their studies, Dean and Phyllis sang in the university choir, enjoyed the Lutheran Student Association and worked on campus in order to support their school expenses. Near the end of their senior year, they were married at Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver in 1960. Graduating in the spring of 1961 with a BS-BA degree, Dean was in search of a job in food service. The University of Idaho was seeking such a person and he was offered the position of food service director at the Student Union. He and Phyllis packed up their few belongings and moved from Denver to Moscow.
Dean’s creativity flourished as he introduced the baron of beef, lavish buffets adorned with creative ice sculptures he carved, providing fine banquets and festive gatherings for many. In addition, he was serving the football team’s pregame meals and running the union snack bar/restaurant. After six years, he applied for the position of director of the Student Union and was hired to fulfill numerous roles. Adviser for the Associated Students – ASUI (student government), student newspaper and yearbook, radio station, golf course (of which he spurred the development from nine holes to eighteen holes), Blue Key Club, and overseeing the Student Union operation and food service, to name just a few of his many responsibilities.
Thirty-three years were devoted to the University of Idaho. The Dean Vettrus Scholarship was established upon his retirement in 1993. This fund continues to provide support for many students with an emphasis on leadership. In addition, a tree was planted on the administration lawn with an engraved plaque presented by SArb, an honorary student group.
In addition to his professional career, Dean launched into the business world, purchasing the (what was) Hiawatha Apartments, now White Pine Manor in Potlatch. Then building another 11 units in Moscow kept him busy on the side. Mini storage was in demand in the area, so he developed another business of 200-plus storage units. All of this along with volunteering and extracurricular activities kept Dean more than busy.
The Rotary Club of Moscow has been a wonderful part of Dean’s life for more than 50 years. He served as president for two separate terms, sold thousands of pounds of potatoes for their then-fundraiser, and organized the Rotarians to assist in developing the ponds at the University of Idaho Arboretum.
Dr. Hartung, former president of the University of Idaho, encouraged Dean to begin developing the second phase of the University Arboretum. The confidence placed in him was a challenge not to be ignored. With other interested parties, an association was created since the university was not providing funding. Many volunteers were recruited and, under Dean’s leadership and others in the association, the arboretum along with its ponds, groves of trees, equipment and fundraisers moved forward. The Moscow Rotary Club provided volunteers with varied expertise to assist with the development and, most particularly, the ponds. Once the university witnessed the value and progressing success of the project, a staff person was appointed as a director of the arboretum.
Emmanuel Lutheran Church has been an integral focus of life with years of worship and music, singing in the choir for more than 50 years, along with volunteering, leadership and special projects. Dean served as the president of the Church Council two different terms, sang in the church choir for 50-plus years, served on committees, taught Sunday School for 40 years and, along with his wife, Phyllis, advised the youth group many years, and was actively involved in building and maintaining physical areas of the church with close friends whom he enjoyed for many years. With his backhoe, Dean helped form the entire landscape for the church when it was new in 1967.
Dean loved to have fun and exuded an adventurous spirit.
In between his many activities, he and the family would go to Schweitzer Basin to ski every other weekend. Many summers found Phyllis and Dean cruising the Inland Passage with dear friends from Seattle. More recent, Dean enjoyed being at their Coeur d’Alene Lake home, boating, entertaining and tinkering.
“Dean the Machine” was a fitting name for a busy, loving, hard-working and fun gentleman.
He loved his family, his country, his church and his many friends.
He was preceded in death by his parents, John and Nora Strand Vettrus, and his brother, Jerry Vettrus. He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Phyllis Vettrus, of Moscow; son Andrew Dean Vettrus, of Moscow, and grandson Conner Dean Vettrus, of Moscow.
He is also survived by brothers Dennis (Norma) Vettrus, of Eugene, Ore., and Paul Vettrus, of Salem, Ore; nephews and nieces Ron (Janelle), John, Dan, (Sue) and Tom (Shelly) Vettrus, of Salem, Ore., along with Ruth, Sarah and Rachel Vettrus, of Eugene, Ore.; nephew Matthew (Kim) Vettrus resides in Coeur d’Alene. Many other extended family are in varied locations across the country.
A graveside service for the family will be held in the near future at the Moscow Cemetery.
A memorial for family and friends will be scheduled later this spring at Emmanuel Lutheran Church.
In memory of Dean, contributions may be made to Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 1036 W. A St., Moscow, ID 83843 or the Dean Vettrus Scholarship c/o the University of Idaho Foundation: 875 Perimeter Drive, MS3143, Moscow, ID 83844.
Arrangements have been entrusted to Short’s Funeral Chapel of Moscow, and online condolences may be sent to www.shortsfuneralchapel.com.