Rob Vande Zande Jr. (The Reporter)
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FOND DU LAC, WIS. — A Fond du Lac High School graduate serving with the U.S. Army in Texas drowned Saturday in New Mexico.
Spc. Rob Vande Zande Jr., 21, oldest son of former Fond du Lac City Councilman Rob Vande Zande and his wife, Debi, died while swimming at Elephant Butte Lake in Sierra County.
He was stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, after serving a year in Korea. His wife, Sarah, is expecting their first child, a daughter, in November.
Rob Vande Zande said he spoke with his son two weeks ago. He said his son was in the process of seeking promotion to sergeant.
“I am so proud of my son (and) the man he has become,” the elder Vande Zande said Monday from Texas. “He did what he wanted to do with the military and in life. When he put his mind toward something, he did it full force.”
He said he will miss his son’s smile and kind heart.
“He was so looking forward to being a dad,” Rob Vande Zande said. “He loved that little girl beyond belief.”
Rob Vande Zande said his son and daughter-in-law were at the lake, located about two hours from Fort Bliss, with three Army friends. Vande Zande disappeared while swimming. The friends searched for Vande Zande but could not locate him. They believe something caused him to panic about 15 feet from shore.
Officers from the New Mexico State Police Department dive team helped search for Vande Zande, according to the Associated Press. Officers recovered the body in eight feet of water about 50 feet from shore.
Authorities said it appears Vande Zande had problems while swimming and could not stay above water. They said neither alcohol nor foul play were factors in the drowning. A coroner’s report is pending.
Rob (Sr.) and Debi Vande Zande also have two younger sons. Ryan is a student at UW-Fond du Lac and Austin is a junior at Fond du Lac High School.
Uecker-Witt Funeral Home is handling funeral arrangements. Visitation is tentatively planned for Monday, with the funeral Tuesday. Rob and Debi Vande Zande were in Texas on Monday and details of the arrangements had not been finalized.