Retired Brig. Gen. Stephen L. Vonderheide, 61, of Reno, was found Tuesday afternoon by Stockton police officers asked to check on his welfare after family could not reach him.
His fiancee, Annette Oakes, said authorities think he succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning after he fell asleep watching football. The yacht’s generator is suspected to have caused the toxic fumes, Oakes said.
“He was the love of my life, a man of honor and integrity, and he had kindness and compassion,” Oakes said.
The couple had planned to marry next month after being together six years. They had just returned from a trip to New York City, where they visited Oakes’ son.
Vonderheide wanted to check the yacht in the San Joaquin Delta because they had been away from it for some time, Oakes said. She stayed home Sunday while he went to Stockton. The pair typically went on the boat during the weekends because Vonderheide loved to fish.
Vonderheide retired from the Guard in 2003 after two years as its commander and assistant state adjutant general. He had enlisted in 1966 as an administrative operations specialist.
“He was the best air national guardsman Nevada has ever had,” said his former boss, retired Maj. Gen. Giles Vanderhoof.
“He flew every aircraft we had,” he said. “He was one of the finest officers I have known and was a real crackerjack pilot. He was born to fly.”
Vonderheide was deployed with the 152nd Reconnaissance Group during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991. He flew several intelligence-gathering missions in RF-4C Phantom fighter jets along the Iraqi, Kuwaiti-Saudi borders during Desert Shield and 25 combat missions into Iraq and Kuwait during Desert Storm.
Vonderheide’s jet was the first to take reconnaissance photos of the war. In 1995, he set a world speed record for the Phantom of 1,051.30 mph.
“He was probably one of the most knowledgeable in the air force on intelligence and reconnaissance,” Vanderhoof said. “He helped the Air Force progress to world-class status in those areas.”
Col. David Snyder of the Nevada Air National Guard said he flew with Vonderheide during the first Gulf War when Snyder was fairly new with the Guard.
“He was a pilot’s pilot,” he said. “Back in those days, we used to have this thing where our job is to fly, fight and win, and everything else is rubbish. He certainly lived and acted that. He was focused on being the warrior aviator.”
Snyder said Vonderheide was a model aviator and there continues to be a lot of “Steve Vonderheide stories being told in the squadron.”
“He definitely left a lasting legacy,” he said.
Vonderheide also had a seed business in Lovelock and developed a seed that would not be eaten by birds or blown away by
the wind, had a defense consulting business and was co-chair of the Western Pacific Airspace and Range Council, which deals
with airspace and range issues for Arizona, Nevada, California and Hawaii.
He was a 1964 graduate of Wooster High School and a University of Nevada, Reno, alumnus.
Vonderheide leaves sisters Kim Henrick of Reno and Robin Andrews of Spanish Springs. His future stepdaughter was Ashley
Oakes, 23, who lived with him and her mother.
His remains were being cremated in California.
A celebration of his life ceremony is being planned for next week