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Meyera Oberndorf, Former VB Mayor, ODU Advocate, Dies at 74

Former Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf, whose tireless advocacy led to Old Dominion University opening a four-year branch campus in the city, has died. She was 74.

Oberndorf, who earned a degree in elementary education from Old Dominion University in 1964, remained a friend of the University throughout her career that spanned from teaching, and chairing the library board, to becoming the longest-serving mayor of Virginia Beach, the Commonwealth's most-populous city.

"Meyera Oberndorf was an incredible advocate not only for her alma mater, Old Dominion, but also for higher education in general," said ODU President John R. Broderick. "Over the years, Meyera and her late husband Roger attended numerous events here to the delight of many in the University community. However, it was her tireless efforts in office that resulted in greater education opportunities for the citizens of Virginia Beach and sparked economic development in the Princess Anne corridor in particular."

In addition to her bachelor's degree, the University honored her with its Distinguished Alumni Award in 1995 and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1999.

Stephen Tonelson, professor of communication disorders and special education in ODU's Darden College of Education, said the skills that made Oberndorf an excellent elementary schoolteacher were the same that made her a successful mayor.

"For Meyera, those skills included understanding the importance of relationships and making every person with whom she interacted feel important - that the individual mattered and had value," Tonelson said. "Meyera never stopped being an outstanding teacher. She simply increased the size of the classroom to include an entire city."

As Virginia Beach's 23rd mayor, from 1988 to 2008, Oberndorf was also the city's first female and longest serving mayor. It was during Oberndorf's tenure as mayor that the city donated the land on which Old Dominion built the Virginia Beach Higher Education Center (VBHEC).

Calling the August 1999 opening of the VBHEC a "vision coming to fruition," Oberndorf continued to advocate for the educational needs of Virginia Beach.

"By allowing our citizens to avoid the commute to Norfolk, this new initiative will allow our young people to get their degree right here in their hometown, and it will increase opportunities for adults looking to further their education, which only leads to a stronger workforce," Oberndorf said, at the time of the announcement.

Approximately 4,500 ODU students live in Virginia Beach with more than 3,500 students taking classes at the center annually. The city is home to more than 16,000 ODU graduates.

The four-year branch campus' resource information center was renamed in Oberndorf's honor in 2010.

President Broderick surprised Oberndorf with the honor at a Women's History Month celebration and special tribute at the VBHEC. The Meyera Oberndorf Learning Commons, located on the first floor of the center, is the hub of student academic support services.

Oberndorf was born in Newport News, and moved to Virginia Beach in 1964 after receiving her degree from Old Dominion University. She quickly assumed leadership roles in a variety of civic organizations, before being elected to Virginia Beach City Council in 1976.

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