Most parents love to brag about their kids attending the Naval Academy. John VornDick had so many he lost count after 345.
VornDick, a retired printing salesman, became a sponsor dad in 1975. Over the following decades, he opened his home to dozens of midshipmen each year.
He died Tuesday at the Inpatient Care Center of Hospice of the Chesapeake's John & Cathy Belcher Campus in Pasadena. A convoy of midshipmen was en route to perform an honor salute for him. Though saddened by his passing, they did the ceremonial salute in his room at 3:30 p.m.
VornDick was 76.
Three of the midshipmen whose lives he touched were members of the class of 1981.
Vice Admiral Ted Carter, now superintendent of the Naval Academy, has known VornDick since his first year at the Academy. Though VornDick was not his official sponsor.
"He was kind of like that 'other parent' in Annapolis," Carter said.
Carter remembers VornDick as popular, especially with the members of the rugby team.
"He supported a lot of midshipmen academically and emotionally. He gave them a sense of home. He was always doing the right thing for everybody."
VornDick, a Roman Catholic, was supportive of the Naval Academy in other ways. At the Naval Academy Chapel, VornDick served as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist (EME) since 1983. From 1989 to 1995, he assumed the duties of head EME and was a member of the Chapel Guild.
For nearly two decades, VornDick was the head of the altar servers and trained new servers.
"I used to see him every Sunday at church until 2 1/2 months ago when his health declined," Carter said. "He was still taking care of plebes, teaching them where to put the candles and hold up the bible for the Catholic priest — things he was doing when I got here as a plebe in 1977."
The sponsor program is a federally-funded program at the Naval Academy. The adults involved, more than 2,100, open their residences to the midshipmen they sponsor. They are all volunteers, unpaid for their efforts.
Daniel Proulx, another class of 1981 member who recently retired from the Navy, said the Naval Academy graduates VornDick sponsored during their midshipmen years included four brigade commanders, one deputy brigade commander, one chief of staff, three brigade operations officers and countless other brigade staffers. Some of his sponsor-kids have gone on to become Marine Corps Lieutenant Generals, Navy Vice Admirals and Rear Admirals.
An avid Navy football fan who rarely missed a home game, VornDick was a volunteer diving instructor for 15 years and a rugby club sponsor from 1977 to 1994.
Class of 1981 graduate Tim Disher, the director of International Programs at the Naval Academy, said VornDick was his official sponsor. One of Disher's high school classmates in Virginia Beach was related to VornDick and suggested the Crownsville resident sponsor him.
"I had no idea at the time what a sponsor was," said Disher. "But, he has been a part of my life since 1977. He was a guest at my wedding."
VornDick, who never married, was invited to dozens of his sponsor-kids' weddings and was "Best Man" for at least ten.
In the early years, VornDick's sponsor-kids snoozed on the floors. Sleeping arrangements evolved to mattresses on the floors and, finally, the bunk beds.
Disher remembers on warm weekends when he had liberty, VornDick's waterfront was filled with people in bathing suits, jumping into the Severn.
Just before they graduated in 1981, the class voted to make VornDick an honorary classmate, one of only three people bestowed with the honor that week. He was also made an honorary member of the classes of 1980 and 1989.
According to the Congressional Record of June 26, 1986, VornDick received recognition on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for his outstanding service to the midshipmen and the Naval Academy.
After graduation, Disher returned to VornDick's house on Herald Harbor Road several times.
"Once a sponsor, always a sponsor," he said.
Disher is now a sponsor, too.
"You pay it forward," he said.
A funeral service will be held for VornDick at 10 a.m. on Jan. 20, in the Naval Academy Chapel. It will be followed by inurnment at the Naval Academy Columbarium and a reception in Dahlgren Hall.
The public is welcome.