A Life Lived: Scott VanDam was a scholar, space engineer, and musician, but his favorite pastime was hiking

Published 11:55 am Tuesday, May 2, 2023

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Scott VanDam was the son of Dirk VanDam, former director of Moody Aviation. He along with his three sisters, Sandra, Linda, and Sharon, grew up in Elizabethton. They now live in other parts of the country as does his mother, Camilla, who resides in Illinois.
Scott graduated from Elizabethton High School, and went on to further his education at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville and ITT Chicago. After school, he worked in various engineering positions including NASA contractors in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and Huntsville, Ala. Scott was honored at the Space Walk of Fame in Titusville, Fla., for his work in the space program and taught college at the University of Central Florida and East Tennessee State University.
Scott had a genuine love affair with the great outdoors and enjoyed hiking. He had hiked the Appalachian Trail numerous times, as well as the Pacific Crest Trail in California, and several other trails. Scott was the first person to pull off a southbound thru-hike of the Eastern Continental Trail. A fellow hiker, Nimblewill Nomad (who goes by Sunny and whose real name is M.J. Eberhart) shared with Scott’s sister. Sharon Wise, that the ECT is an amalgamation of trail, which includes the Appalachian Trail, the International Appalachian Trail, which now extends into Newfoundland, a section of the Benton-McKaye Trail, the Pinhoti Trail, and the Florida Trail. “All are interconnected with road walks – from Cape Gape, Quebec to Key West, Fla., a distance of some 4,400 miles,” Scott’s hiker friend shared.
“The ECT trek of Scotty’s was his most outstanding hiking accomplishment, a display of determination and grit,” Nimblewill Nomad shared with Scott’s sister.
For the past several years “Scottie,” the name he went by on the trail, had ran a hostel in Roan Mountain for Appalachian Trail hikers. “He was at home on the trail and with the hikers,” said his sister, Sharon. “When he died and I visited the hostel on Buck Mountain, there were numerous notes posted on the walls by hikers, some of whom he had rescued on the trail, some he had fed, and others he had provided a place to stay on a cold night.
“He had a connection with the hikers, and he enjoyed them. My brother was a genius and knew so much about so many things, yet, he was so down to earth and loved and met people on their level,” said his sister.
Scott attended High Baptist Church in Roan Mountain and often shared his love for music with the small congregation of people who attended services there. Regina Oaks, long-time pianist at the church, said Scott was an excellent pianist and had a beautiful voice. “He was a very likable fellow and when he became sick and was unable to attend services, we really missed him,” said Regina. “We enjoyed his piano playing. He liked to play the old hymns. He had a wonderful testimony and among his favorite hymns was ‘I’d Rather Have Jesus,’” shared Regina.
The Appalachian Trail ran through Scott’s property in Roan Mountain, and his chalet-type house was solar heated. He designed it and placed the solar panels himself, friends and family shared. Oftentimes he provided tents for hikers who preferred the outdoors to staying inside.
Scott, according to his sister, had a great admiration for his father, who was a pilot. “I remember when he was a teen he invented a salt shaker that when you turned it upside down, it would shock you,” Sharon shared with laughter. “He was always fixing things and he and our dad enjoyed the ham radio Scott built when a teenager. They enjoyed it for years. He was a good brother and son, and took care of our aging parents when he could,” said Sharon.
Another sister, Sandra Konkel, shared that Scott was a most intelligent person, but was very humble. “He had a lot of hiking friends, and he shared his love of music not only with his church family, but with his hiking friends. He had a piano on his front porch, and often would play and sing for those visiting the hostel, among them Nimblewill Nomad,” she shared.
Both sisters shared that Scott was a very generous person, and donated to several organizations. In addition to his work, music, and hiking, Sandra noted that Scott at one time was a DJ in Oklahoma. “He especially enjoyed attending football games at Cloudland High School,” she said.
Scott VanDam died at the age of 61. During those years he had covered a lot of territory through his hiking, and had met a lot of people and touched numerous lives all the way from Florida to Maine, from the East Coast to the West Coast. This poem, shared by his sister, Sandra, was found by his bedside after his death, which was indirectly related to COVID.
The path that I have trod
Has brought me nearer to God
Though oft it led through sorrow’s gates
And not the way I choose, In my way I may lose The joy that yet for me awaits.
Not what I wish to be, nor where I wish to go
For who am I that I should choose my way?
The Lord shall choose for me, It is better far I know
So let Him bid me go or stay.
Scott Alan VanDam died April 16 at his Roan Mountain home and was laid to rest April 22 at Happy Valley Memorial Park.

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