At ground level

A column about LIFE

Remembering friends …

The past two months have taken a toll on me. Three people I know have died and a number of friends are sick – with cancer, or condition unknown. Bring me back to those days when we thought we were immortal and would live forever, when life was still beginning for us, when we didn’t have a care in the world!

It’s a sobering feeling when good friends die. It just fills my heart with sadness.

Below I write a tribute to two friends. I find strength in writing about them, and in doing so, I hope they will be remembered.

Remembering a Fellow Editor: To Sandy Sanderson, My Mentor

Sandy Sanderson at the Des Moines Farmers' Market during the July 4th weekend in 2008.

At a beautiful ceremony I was privileged to attend, we listened to a couple of songs Sandy sang with his guitar, which he recorded for his daughter a few months ago. I had to blink, because it was so clear, as if he was physically there, singing to us. Then we shared memories. Here are mine.

“You can take the man out of the newspaper, but you can’t take the newspaper out of the man.”

This thought came to mind when my friend Sandy Sanderson informed me last year that due to the economy he was retiring sooner than planned; yet, I could feel his excitement when he talked about launching his own website, called “Sandy’s Ankeny” (

You see, Sandy loved Ankeny, and it seems Ankeny loved Sandy too, as evidenced by the newspaper’s lifespan. Ankeny is the remaining Press Citizen newspaper, and Sandy Sanderson had been the paper’s managing editor for what seemed like forever.

It was at the Press Citizen Newspaper Network where I met Sandy more than a decade ago. In fact, he was in the room when I first interviewed for the managing editor’s post for the Urbandale Press Citizen. I was amused because Sandy took it upon himself to act as a mentor to me, despite my telling him that I had worked in newspapers for almost as many years as he. He insisted in showing me the ropes. I have to admit, he taught me a few tricks about laying out the newspaper in Quark XPress. I was never afraid to walk into the dark Press Citizen building on a quiet Sunday afternoon, because he would often be there, laying out his paper.

Sandy was the old-timer, the veteran of the Press Citizen gang. We may not always have agreed with him, and would sometimes laughingly chastise him about mixing fonts in his newspaper, but we respected him, and we knew that the Ankeny Press Citizen was his baby. Lo and behold anyone who even thought of tampering with it, or wrestling him for the editor’s spot. He made it clear he was captain of that ship!

Sandy had a kindred spirit and apart from the newspaper, he loved his music. He sang and played rhythm guitar in a band. He got to love ballroom dancing, which is where he met Lois, and they both loved to travel together.

Most of all, Sandy had a big heart. I now live in California, but while going through a tough time several years ago, Sandy and Lois opened their home to me when I needed a place to stay. He knew I was hurting, and continued to be there, offering to help in any way he could.

Each time I would return to Iowa, Sandy would update me on the latest news in the area and about our mutual friends. Sadly, our schedules didn’t jibe the past year, and we never got to meet. I still remember him telling me, “That’s all right, Hon. Now keep in touch and we’ll get together next time you come around. Make sure you call now, okay? You take care.”

I will miss Sandy’s stories, his relaxed demeanor, his jokes, including his cackling laugh. They say the best thing you can do while on this earth is share your talents with the world, and leave it a better place. Sandy left Ankeny a better place. His legacy is etched in the Ankeny Press Citizen newspapers, for all to see – in his city council and school board stories, in the features he wrote, and in his often amusing column, “Odds ‘n Ends.” What a marvelous way to be remembered!

I’m glad Sandy is “safely home.” I have no doubt he is smiling down on Ankeny! As for me, I’d like to tell him, “I’m sure we’ll see each other next time around. In the meantime, you take care, my friend.”

My tribute to Sandy was later submitted to the Des Moines Register. See here:

Thank you, Charles, for submitting it. I’m sure Sandy is smiling down on you too!

Grace Is Safely Home …

The news about Grace Marci had been on my mind for many days. I had tossed and turned at night, thinking about her and her two daughters. Now she is at peace…

Grace wasn’t one of my closest friends, but she was always there among my classmates, through grade school and high school. Some years, she was in the same class as I; other years, she wasn’t. But Grace is a classmate I will always remember.

I remember Grace as always smiling, often with a pen in the pocket of her uniform. She was always neat – hair never tousled, uniform always crisp and clean. She always brimmed with self-confidence, was so energetic, exact, direct, a to-the-point kind of person.

I grieve for Grace and for the daughters she leaves behind, but I believe, with all my heart, that she is safely home with our Lord in heaven.

When I arrived home after my dad’s funeral many years ago, I was distraught and asked God to please give me a sign that Dad was with Him.

“Give me a sign that he is safe with you; that he’s ok, God,” I prayed and pleaded.

A few days later, I received this novena solicitation in the mail from some rectory. In it was the prayer below. It brought tears to my eyes and a chuckle. How American to have God’s message come to me in the form of the U.S. mail! But then I knew that Dad was safely home.

To this day, this has been my favorite poem. I read it and am consoled every time I learn someone I know has passed away. I know that Grace is “safely home” too, at peace, and looking down on her family and on all of us.

Safely Home

I am home in heaven, dear ones;
Oh so happy and so bright!
There is perfect joy and beauty
In this everlasting light.

All the pain and grief is over,
Every restless tossing passed;
I am now at peace forever,
Safely home in heaven at last.

Did you wonder how I so calmly
Trod the valley of the shade?
Oh, but Jesus’ love illumined
Every dark and fearful glade.

And He came himself to meet me
In that way so hard to tread;
And with Jesus’ arm to lean on,
Could I have one doubt or dread?

Then you must not grieve so sorely,
For I love you dearly still;
Try to look beyond earth’s shadows,
Pray to trust our Father’s will.

There is work still waiting for you,
So you must not idly stand;
Do it now, while life remains,
You shall rest in Jesus’ land.

When that work is all completed,
He will gently call you home;
Oh, the rapture of that meeting,
Oh, the joy to see you come!

– Anonymous

Grace Marci, a friend and classmate

September 17, 2010 - Posted by | Friendship

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