Born and raised in Noonan, North Dakota.
Received a Bachelor of Science degree in Commerce with Accounting Department honors in 1955 from the University of North Dakota, elected to Phi Eta Sigma, Beta Alpha Psi, and Beta Gamma Sigma, professional and honorary fraternities and was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha social fraternity. Awarded a Juris Doctor (JD) Magna Cum Laude from UND School of Law in 1958. Editor of North Dakota Law Review in senior year and a member of the Order of the Coif and Phi Alpha Delta legal fraternity.
Served as a Special Assistant Attorney General from 1958 to 1978; including service as First Assistant Attorney General from 1975 until his appointment to the Supreme Court. As an assistant attorney general, held portfolios for elementary, secondary, and higher education, oil and gas, and the state retirement system. Served as the North Dakota delegate to the Interstate Oil Compact Commission. Appointed to the Supreme Court in August 1978 and elected to serve the unexpired term in November 1978. Elected for a full 10-year term in 1984 and re-elected in 1994, 2004, and 2014. Elected Chief Justice in January 1993 by vote of the district court judges and Supreme Court justices. Re-elected as Chief Justice January 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010, and 2015. Stepped down as Chief Justice December 2019.
Memberships and Committees
Chaired North Dakota Judicial Conference, 1985 to 1987; President of the Conference of Chief Justices, 2000 to 2001; appointed by Chief Justice Rehnquist to the Federal/State Jurisdiction Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States; Chairperson of the Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar of the American Bar Association (ABA), 2000 to 2001; and served two terms as a delegate to the ABA House of Delegates.
Recipient of the University of North Dakota Sioux Award, 1992; recipient of the North Dakota State Bar Association Distinguished Service Award, June 1998; inducted into the Warren E. Burger Society, October 2002; recipient of the National Center for State Courts Paul C. Reardon Award, 2003; American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Eighth Circuit, 2008; recipient of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar 2009 Robert J. Kutak Award; 42nd recipient of the North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, 2015; recipient of National Center for State Courts Harry L. Carrico Award, 2015; recipient of National Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity Order of Achievement, 2015; recipient of University of North Dakota Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters, 2015; recipient of University of Mary Degree of Doctor of Leadership, 2016; State Bar Association of North Dakota established the Gerald W. VandeWalle Medal, 2017; recipient of the North Dakota Association of Counties Excellence in Government Dedicated Partner Award, 2019; recipient of the University of North Dakota President’s Medal of Honor, 2020; recipient of the University of North Dakota Spirit Award, 2020; and the University of North Dakota School of Law renamed the largest courtroom after VandeWalle, 2020.