Archived Story

Jo-Ann Boepple: Stranger than fiction

Published 2:30pm Thursday, December 30, 2010

The other day someone asked me if I am the person who writes about Edwardsburg history. Well, my reply was, “Yes, I am the one who makes up stories about Edwardsburg.”

boeppleNow that’s only partially true. They say that real life is stranger than fiction. Some of the facts about Edwardsburg do sound like fiction but are really true.

Someday I would like to write a book about the Edwardsburg “characters.” There have been many and they would make great stories but they will read like fiction.

But here is a true story about a real “character.”

Jack Sanders was a lovable real “character.” His passing this past week came as a total surprise to all who knew him. And many knew him.

Since I am a woman, I was not privy to his garage feasts. It was a men-only event but one that will become a living legend. Those who talk about the garage gatherings will always remember those Thursday lunches.

But since I was not involved, let me explain how I did know Jack.

I am not sure when I first met him. It seemed that I always knew him. He lived in Edwardsburg and was part of a famous family that were sign painters. Any sign in Edwardsburg was painted by the Sanders brothers, Jack’s father and uncles. Everyone knew them.

I was a young teacher at the primary school and Jack was a teacher in the Elkhart school system. He had taught briefly in Edwardsburg and was put in charge of a summer program.

It was the 1970s, the years of the Woodstock generation. Now Jack was a little old to be one of the “flower children” of the time. But he believed that all children deserved a chance and that all children could learn. He believed that building a child’s self-esteem would help him or her to be successful.

Special programs were funded to try to help children become successful. So Jack named the summer school program the Mr. Proud School.  It was the entire underlying theme of the summer school program and the first year was held at the Eagle Lake School.

Jack thought the program needed a secretary for the program, I applied and he hired me for the summer. Along with a regular teaching staff, about 10 teenagers and some parents were also hired as part of the self-esteem program to act as aides to the program.

As the director, Jack believed that parents should be a part of the children’s learning and he involved the children and their parents in the program.

It was a great summer program and the children selected to participate were very fortunate to be involved.

Two summers later, Jack went to the Edwardsburg Board of Education, made a presentation and asked the school board to fund a regular school year program for the children. The students and staff bought him a large peace medallion, which he wore to the school board meeting, which was a little out of place in this conservative community.

The school board was very supportive and I was employed as one of the teachers of that program.

All this time Jack was working in the Elkhart schools during the regular school year. As principal of Ullery School, one summer he was in charge of a program there and I did my student teaching in his program. He was my mentor.

As time went on, Jack continued to work in Elkhart and I was assigned to different positions in the Edwardsburg schools.

Fifteen years later, I was the director of adult education. Jack had retired from Elkhart and I asked Jack to join our adult education staff as a math teacher. He spent several years working in the Edwardsburg program as well as working in the Dowagiac Adult Education. He helped many adults obtain their high school  diplomas.

Jack was selected by the Edwardsburg adult students as Teacher of the Year. His students while learning also developed a lasting friendship with Jack. He went out of his way to make sure they were successful.

He was more than a teacher. He was a mentor, a friend, a motivator and a role model for not only the students but all who knew him.

He was an educator, a teller of fish stories, a father and grandfather, a faithful husband and a good friend to many. All who mourn him were lucky to have known him.

He was a true Edwardsburg “character.” One of a kind.

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