Seek Truth Without Fear
"One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters."
~ George Herbert
by Dixie A. Walter: In honor of Father's Day we offer this
tribute to Joe Sander written by one of his protégés, George Venn,
a retired member of the English faculty at Eastern Oregon University.
George is also a prize-winning author and poet. You can find out more
about George on his web site -
Home - George
Joe Sander: A Tribute
of Joe after a day of logging at Pack Forest courtesy of George Venn.
While living in Iowa, the newly-weds started their family–two sons
who became Joe’s older brothers: firstborn Carl Jr. arrived in
1910 when his mother was 17, and, second born Paul arrived in 1911
when his mother was 18. Sometime after 1910, the Sanders read
advertisements that Seattle shipyards were hiring workers to build war
ships, so with their two oldest boys, the Sanders headed west by
There, the young family continued to grow: Joe’s older sister Betty
was born in 1920, and his younger sister Joanne came in
1927–two years after Joe was born in Eatonville March 21,1925. At his
birth, his parents were middle-aged–father 38, his mother 32. So Joe
was the youngest son in a family of six–a little brother with three
older siblings to follow around, to care for him, to trust, to learn
from, to love, and hard-working German-American homesteading parents
to provide food and fuel and shelter in the logged off timberlands
west of Mt. Rainier National Park.
As they all walked to the scale in the back bedroom, Joe’s dad
slipped two andirons from the stove into the large mackinaw
pockets–each andiron probably weighing two pounds or more. When an
incredulous Suderburg read the impossible weight, Joe always
remembered the loud hearty side-splitting laughter that burst from
both his straight-faced father and the duped storekeeper.
As he grew up, Joe would likely have learned more completely how
Paul died– Maybe from youthful impatience or ignorance? Maybe from
incaution with powder or fuse or blasting caps? From that tragedy, I
suggest that Joe internalized a strong sense of caution, of
self-protection, of safety. Logging is one of the two most dangerous
professions. Even with a hard hat, caulked boots, stagged pants, heavy
gloves, a raincoat, and a black lunch pail, Joe knew he could go to
work one morning and never come home again.
A logger never
turns his back on a log –
So we can celebrate Joe’s keen awareness of danger in the woods, a characteristic that also served him well for the 50 years he worked as a lineman for Alder Mutual Light and for the 15 years he worked for Eatonville Power and Light.
During the summers I worked for Joe, I watched him always probe for
rot with a bar around the base of a power pole before he
ever strapped on his spurs to climb, and when he learned how linemen
had been killed by rotten poles falling on them, he told Betty, “If it
goes, I’m going to jump.” And he did. Twice. And he lived. Injured, he
recovered. Eye surgery afterward was better than being dead. That
sense of caution even extended to home electrical appliances: before
leaving for a trip to town, Joe would unplug lamps, heaters– anything
with dubious cords, switches, receptacles. (I wondered if he suspected
an electrical fire had started the Sanders’ home fire in 1940.)
Those three Alder boys were together from first through eighth
grade. The only boys in their class, they were together so
much that they became known as the “Three Musketeers:” Joe Sander,
Dave Thureson, and Rod Scurlock. Throughout the ensuing 77 years, they
maintained their early camaraderie, and Joe and Rod dedicated their
book Old Alder to that bond and to Dave Thureson, the first to pass
With World War II beginning, Joe withdrew from high school and went to work: every night, he once told me, he went to the Nisqually River to choose, load, and haul home the right-sized stones. By hand, he built wood slip forms, filled them with a layer of stone, covered them with hand-mixed concrete mortar, placed another layer of stones, covered them with more fresh mortar, tamped it down, let it set up over night, raised the forms higher the next day. Repeat the process. Add windows and doors, a good cedar roof.
A labor of love, a monument to ingenuity, that “Rock House” still
stands by Highway 7. As a teenager then, we can celebrate Joe
Sander’s loyalty–not only to his school buddies but also to his
family. He took on the responsibilities of a family man, faithful son,
craftsman, builder. In those years, he even shot a black bear with his
old .22 rifle; the bear had killed two calves on the Sander farm.
During the late 1930s and 1940s, Joe would also have learned a lot
from his Dad whose logging and road building business now depended
on their Caterpillar Sixty tractor–the largest crawler built at that
time, and one of the first such machines in the Alder area. Learning
to set chokers at an early age would have been easy, but Joe now could
learn tractor operation and maintenance. After all, any repair or
maintenance service was in Tacoma 30 miles away and expensive.
I still recall the day, when we were building Joe and Betty’s new
house, that one of his amazed siblings said to him, “How do you
know all this stuff?” Joe replied modestly, “I don’t know. I guess I
always knew it.” So, today, we can celebrate Joe’s implicit curiosity,
his intelligence, his modesty, his passion for learning beyond school
As Mr. Fixit, Joe’s skill was legendary–as many here today can
probably recall. In my family, his expertise is remembered
for one incident in particular: my grandfather George Mayo had just
bought a new Skilsaw, but the brand new saw would only chew through
lumber like a dull file. So Gramp called Joe, then met him at his
garage. Joe took one look at the saw and told my grandfather: “Your
blade’s in backwards.” Shocked and a little embarrassed, Gramp watched
Joe reverse the blade, then cut a 2 x 4" like butter. “Fixed” was one
of Joe’s favorite words. “Lazy, fat, sloppy and junk” led his critical
Using his cant hook, Joe rolled a log from the skids onto the
carriage, dogged it down, then, as head sawyer, he slowly
moved the log back and forth through the headsaw, each pass cutting
just enough slab to make the round log square. At the end of the
carriage run, I, as offbearer, flipped the cant, or cut slab, onto its
flat side, pushed it on steel rollers to the spinning cutoff saw where
I cut the slab/cant into firewood. After falling into a hopper, the
firewood was carried up a steep chute by an endless waste chain, then
fell in a pile to dry, then to be sold or hauled to Joe’s new
shop/garage to fire his steam heat boiler. Nothing was wasted.
In particular, I recall the days in 1963 we sawed cedar 3 x 8" floor joist for the entire new house–Joe’s innovation in home construction. Years later, he told me that he’d dreamed over and over of being forced to pull rotting planks full of rusty old spikes from under a rotting house. So, today, we can still celebrate his dream of buildings that last, his design skills, his commitment to local processing. (If I remember correctly, Joe even cut and installed new diving boards at Uncle Charlie Boettcher’s pond, a favorite local place where he swam, attended church and community picnics, and ice skated during the winter. )
Love Finds Joe One Summer Morning
Joe and Betty, married for 64 years, at their iconic kitchen table. Photo courtesy of Rick Sander.
By age 25, however, Joe was mature, ripe for love. In Tacoma at 2:30 a.m. one summer morning in 1950, Joe was taking a carload of local kids to the beach when he met Betty Kimmerly. A tall, beautiful, intelligent, soft-spoken Canadian woman from Edmonton, Betty was working as a dental assistant. Courtship seems to have been short and sweet.
Love didn’t take long to make up their minds: July 2, 1950, they were married and because Joe was still finishing his garage, the newlyweds lived at the La Grande motel for two weeks after the wedding before moving into the garage apartment. So, with his aging parents living right next door in the house he built for them, Joe became a husband and father. The Sanders’ oldest daughter Judy was born October 17, 1952. Identical twins Bonnie and Barbara were born June 5, 1954. Their son Rick on September 24, 1958.
Joe's Children Remember Dad
What was life like with Joe Sander as your father? Recently the
children shared some of their memories.
He also had no reservations about teaching us how to butcher at a
pretty young age. He always went out first, shot the cow
and bled the animal, but the pool of blood was there for all to see
when we started the skinning. It took a few years, but his three girls
ended up loving to butcher. Didn't make most of the later boyfriends
very comfortable, but oh well!
What? I was crushed... no way was this possible. Well, over the
next year, we took old parts and built a motorcycle that I
enjoyed for the next four years. The only item we purchased was
bearings. The engine was a rebuilt rototiller engine, the transmission
was rebuilt from an old motorcycle, the shock absorbers were made from
trailer springs, the clutch was made out of an old washing machine,
the gears were cut from sheets of iron, the wheels were from an old
boat trailer. In retrospect, this was the best lesson of my life.”
Celebrating Joe and Betty's Life Together
Joe and Betty enjoying the abundant local beauty. Photo circa 2014 courtesy Rick Sander.
Today, we can celebrate Joe and Betty’s years of successful parenting and caring for each other. They were loving and skilled collaborators with definite complimentary and traditional roles: Joe mostly worked outside–woods, power line, mill, shop, planer, barn, highway–and Betty kept order indoors–children, household, meals, accounts, bills, taxes, Alder Mutual Light records and shares, and any and all the paperwork. (They both tended the garden and raspberries.)
Betty kept track of my hours, wrote and signed all my paychecks. Building the Sanders’ new house those hot summer days in 1963, Betty always brought us big glasses of cold grape juice to cool us down, and probably some homemade cookies, too.
In the woods, Joe’s lunch bucket was always full of delicious surprises. And many afternoons while driving home loaded with logs from Pack Forest, Joe would stop the truck in the middle of a stand of dazzling foxglove, get out his pocket knife, cut a few of those tall pink flowers, bring them back to the truck, hand the foxglove bouquet to me to hold, and say, “‘Bet’ likes these a lot.”
This is not to say that everything was always perfectly harmonious. I clearly remember the day Joe ironically complained while we were eating lunch about apparent pressure to go on family picnics. “Why do I want to go on a picnic? I’m out here in the woods on a picnic every day. A picnic don’t mean nothing to me.”
While there are probably a lot of other good stories about Joe and Betty, during the four summers I worked for the Sanders (1962-1965)–their wages paid my college tuition–the Sander’s relationship always seemed harmonious, congenial, productive. When Joe was sick or injured, Betty was always there.
Joe, Also a Dedicated Historian
When Joe decided to retire in 1987, he and Betty vacationed all
over: Australia, Europe, Canada, Mexico, and the United
States. He also took up a whole new range of projects. Continuing his
love of local stories and photographs, he became fully engaged with
producing Old Alder (2011), a fine 190 page collection of old
photographs, captions, and texts that people will always find valuable
as the only such photographic chronicle of Upper Nisqually Valley
history. Joe also contributed key information and a marriage
photograph to the “Suderburg Farm History” on the Heritage Barn
Registry, Dept of Archeology, State of Washington.
© George Venn - Reprinted by permission of the author. Contact information at Home - George Venn.
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