John Biberdorf

Obituary of John A. Biberdorf

Contact: Daughter, Jean Biberdorf (408)718-3500

John A. Biberdorf, an aerospace engineer who was part of a team that developed early space satellites, maker of prize-winning pickles, lover of dogs and ducks, military historian, and resident of Los Altos for 56 years, died on Sept. 17 at age 92. 

John was born on Nov. 20, 1926 in Kampeska, South Dakota to Ernestine (Hine) Biberdorf and Arthur C. Biberdorf, who both immigrated from Ukraine in the late 1800s. Family lore says John, the seventh of eight children, was born on a sled on the way to the doctor. 

John was preceded in death by his three sisters and four brothers.

He is survived by his two daughters, Ann Sibbet (husband John Sibbet) of Sacramento and Jean Biberdorf of San Jose, and his wife of 66 years, Vinnie Biberdorf of Los Altos. 

Not a fan of work on the farm, John taught himself radio repair from a correspondence course as a teen, which landed him a job off the farm and set his career in motion.   In 1945, at the age of 18 he joined the Navy, which furthered his training in electronics and communications. He was based in Hawaii, Alameda, and also worked at Moffett Field.

On his discharge day in 1952, His Navy buddy John Day introduced John to Vinnie Wood at San Jose State. The South Dakota farm boy asked her on a date after visiting her family's ranch in Soledad. They married in 1953. 

He studied electrical engineering at San Jose State and worked for Dalmo Victor, which sent the young couple to England for a year. He worked for Ford Aerospace from 1958-1992. 

Co-worker and long-time friend John Elrod said it was an exciting time in the aerospace industry as Santa Clara County transformed from orchards and canneries to high tech.

"Everything was new," Elrod said. "The computer room was always as big as your house" but had the capacity of a modern calculator, he said. "We kept expanding and expanding and building more new buildings and getting more satellite work," he said. 

In the late 70s, John started making pickles from backyard cucumbers after declaring he could do better at it than Vinnie. He entered the pickles in the Santa Clara County Fair and won so many blue ribbons that he was written up in the Los Altos Town Crier where they said he attributed his success "to a scientific approach."

John attributed his longevity and good health in part to his daily walks with the family dogs. His love of animals also extended to showing Lhasa Apso's and keeping pet ducks, several generations of which lived in his Los Altos backyard with a small wading pool for a pond.

John and all his brothers were veterans, three of World War II and one of the Korean War.  That led to his interest in military history and his hobby as a collector of military memorabilia.   Longtime friend and fellow military insignia collector Dan Dawson of Pleasanton said he and John attended several military insignia collectors' conventions a year together. 

John's collection focused on the World War II and the Korean War period and included a wide range of items, from uniforms to hats, brass and branch insignia and a collection of badges from PT boats and submarine crews. "He had a very good, high quality collection," Dan said. "He liked more the unusual than just having a little bit of everything." 

Dan said he appreciated his friend's wry sense of humor, his ability to connect to strangers and the endless well of stories he had to tell about interesting people he'd met in his life. "He was a people person," he said.  "John was a character," he said. "I don't know anybody who disliked John." 

A memorial will be held Sunday, November 10th at 1 p.m. at the Garden House at Shoup Park, 400 University Avenue, Los Altos.


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