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John Frederick Wanamaker
(Former Desert Sun School Headmaster)


John Frederick Wanamaker, a former Idyllwild resident, died on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 1999.  He was very involved in the Desert Sun School and served as interim headmaster in the 1970s.

Dr. Wanamaker, a world-renowned ornithologist, graduated from Principia College in Elsah, Illinois in 1939. He received his doctorate degree in conservation education at Cornell University. Dr. Wanamaker later returned to Principia College as chairman of the biology department. He retired in 1970 to his home in Idyllwild and later moved to the Willows in Laguna Hills where he lived until his death.

Dr. Wanamaker was very active in the Idyllwild community. He served as Rotary Club president, formed and was first president of the Friends of the San Jacinto Mountain Parks, taught Elderhostel classes at ISOMATA and was a charter member of the Idyllwild Men's Breakfast Group.

He lead many study/travel programs for students and adults to the Pacific Northwest, the Florida Keys, Baja California, the Bahamas, Alaska, Australia, New Guinea, Iran, the Congo, East Africa, South Africa, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and Tibet.

Dr. Wanamaker became good friends with Joy Adamson, the author of "Born Free," and she spoke to all the groups he brought over to Africa. After her death, "Doc" was the executive director of the Joy Adamson Foundation.

In addition to teaching, Doc held a variety of other posts at Principia. He also chaired the department of science and mathematics, and served as acting dean of men and director of adult continuing education summer sessions. Some of his other professional contributions included appearances on radio and television as an authority on youth camping, wildlife conservation and environmental problems, and and active participation in international conservation societies. After his retirement, he continued his world travels and professional activities with trips to Greece, Turkey and the Greek Islands.

In 1998, Wanamaker Hall, a new teaching and performance auditorium, was dedicated as part of the new Science Center at Principia College on the site of his former biology classroom. There also is an endowed visiting professorship at Principia established in his honor by his former students and friends to fund guest speakers and teachers in the fields of biology and environmental issues.

Doc descended from the East Coast Wanamakers who founded the first department stores in the U.S. His contacts were international and extraordinary. His home on Cedar Glen was once the setting for a meeting between the president of Vietnam and former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. He also hosted the princes of Afghanistan and Cambodia.

Dr. Wanamaker had just returned from a 14-day trip to Turkey when he passed away.  He always challenged others to live up to their highest sense of right. Nothing on the planet escaped his love and concern. Dr. Wanamaker recognized and nurtured good where he saw it.


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Last Updated: 02/20/00
Copyright © 1996 David Gotfredson