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Legendary Educators

The Grand Island Public Schools Foundation is pleased to offer the Legendary Educator Awards. This award was established to recognize the many outstanding educators who have made it their life's work to ensure success for thousands of Grand Island students. We are grateful for the inspiring work of our educators past and present.


The Legendary Educator Award was inaugurated in 2009 to recognize the outstanding educators who have made a difference to the thousands of students who have attended Grand Island Public Schools. To qualify for the Legendary Educator Award the nominee must meet the following criteria below.

Legendary Educator Criteria:

  1. Nominees must have been employed by Grand Island Public Schools

  2. Nominees must be retired, or not currently employed at the Grand Island Public Schools

  3. Nominees will be teachers, counselors, coaches, administrators, etc.

  4. Nominees may be living or deceased

  5. Nominations must explain why the nominee is "legendary" and how the nominee has benefited many students

Nomination Form

Nominee Information

First Name *
Last Name *

Job Description *

Grand Island Public Schools Building where educator was employed *

Address of Nominee (if known)

Address Line 1
Postal Code

Describe how the nominee has collaborated with students and colleagues to create a culture of respect and success.

Describe how the nominee guided students of all backgrounds and abilities to achieve excellence.

Describe how the nominee demonstrated leadership and innovation in and outside of the school building that embodies lifelong learning.

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Nominated By Information

First Name *
Last Name *
Address Line 1 *
City *
State/Province *
Postal Code *

D. Donald Vander Hamm

D. Donald Vander Hamm

Legendary Educator 2024

“A kind and loving man who touched us all with his friendship, his laughter, and his love!  He shall forever be in our thoughts and in our memories, for there are ‘Angels Among Us’, and indeed, D. Donald Vander Hamm is one of them.” – Lincoln and Newell Elementary School Staff

“He’s a special man. He’s what makes the music. He’s so full of enthusiasm, you cannot watch him and not join in.” — Yvette Engelhaupt

“He was an excellent, excellent teacher because every one of those kids were his kids. He just loved those kids.” – City Council member Jackie Pielstick

Don Vander Hamm grew up on a farm near Ireton, Iowa.  He graduated from Concordia Prep School in Seward, Nebraska in 1950 and from Hastings College in 1954 with a degree in Music Education.  He received his Master of Music Education from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, in 1960.

He was a member of the National Music Educators Association, the National Choral Directors Association, as well as the Nebraska Choral Music Directors.  Don was an active member of the Trinity Lutheran Church and served on the Trinity Lutheran School Board.

His teaching career started in 1954 in Shelby, Nebraska where he taught K-12 Vocal and Instrumental music, plus 9th Grade Science and a class of Modern Problems. From 1956 to 1960 he was the K-12 Choral and Instrumental teacher at Wood River.  After that, he was a traveling music teacher in Boelus, Dannebrog, Farwell, and Alda until 1962 before accepting the

Grand Island Northwest Choral Position. Following that position, in 1969, he accepted a teaching job in the Grand Island Public Schools where he taught elementary music at Gates, Jefferson, Newell, and Lincoln Elementary’s before becoming the Vocal Music Coordinator for GIPS in 1972.     

During his tenure for GIPS, several of his many accomplishments were directing the annual 1000-member spring chorus which was made up of 5th and 6th graders from GIPS.  Every year he arranged professional groups to come to Grand Island to work and perform with elementary students across Grand Island to experience the joy and wonder of music and dance. One of his passions was to prepare his students each year to showcase their beautiful voices and choreographed movement in front of their families and friends.  This was the highlight for him, knowing that the students were always giving their best and enjoying what music was all about.

Don Vander Hamm was married to his wife, LaDonna, for 47 years and were blessed with four children, Donelle, Ross, Dian, and Rahn, along with 14 grandchildren and 31 great grandchildren.

© 2024 Grand Island Public Schools Foundation

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