Charlotte Van Valkenburg, celebrated robotics coach, dies at age 51

By Fiona Max

Charlotte Van Valkenburg was in every sense of the word, an anomaly. As the supervisor and engineer of Chaos Theory, the school’s award winning robotics team, Coach Valkenburg never tired as a leader.

Valkenburg founded Chaos Theory in the fall of 2013, knowing that funding the program would not be easy. The coach had no intention of finances limiting the team’s opportunities. With Valkenburg’s direction, Chaos theory members rallied to fund the program’s expenses and before long, they had gained momentum. 

“Charlotte was both the heart and soul of the team,” long time Chaos theory coach Janette Haines said.

Haines was one of the first people to help Valkenburg found the robotics program and will be stepping in as new head coach.

Chaos Theory advanced to the state competition and regionals by 2014. Three years later, the team was qualifying for the Robotics World Championships in Houston, Texas. They have qualified for Worlds every year since this accomplishment. 

“We can accomplish more together. It’s about taking initiative and persevering,” Valkenburg said in an interview with local news channel KTVZ before the team’s 2017 trip to Houston, TX.

Valkenburg’s presence extended far beyond her own team. This fall, the coach was helping develop a robotics program at Pacific Crest middle school. 

A recent Reddit entry created by a Chaos Theory member in memoriam of Valkenburg has been flooded by comments from robotics teams across the country.

Valkenburg was awarded “Women of the Year” by the Bend Chamber of Commerce in recognition of her outstanding work in Bend’s STEM community. 

“When [Chaos Theory] had space issues, she opened her garage for them to work … When they need an advocate, she is the one to create opportunities,” Assistant Principal Jay Etnier wrote on the Chamber of Commerce’s website an explanation of the award that was given to Valkenburg in 2018. 

“Charlotte was a fireball of ideas but she said I helped her bring them down to earth,” Haines said. “I wish to carry on her legacy as I have a lot of experience working with Charlotte side by side for six years.” 

Although it has rocked Bend’s community, it is not Coach Valkenburg’s death that will linger; it is her pursuit of excellence that will live on.

“We are not going to stop working,” senior and Chaos Theory member Cooper Bailey said. “We are going to continue the program in honor of Charlotte because in that way, she lives on.” Chaos Theory will continue to compete for Valkenburg.

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