He also was the chief electrician at La. Tech, a master of sound systems and lighting. He was, as I described him then several times in the school newspaper, "an all-around handyman." He could do and fix just anything.
But people also knew him, perhaps most of all, for the reason he was on the basketball trips -- he was our bus driver. The driver of Tech's famed "Blue Goose," the trailways-like big bus painted in Tech's red-and-blue colors. It wasn't always a cozy ride, but it was ours.
His name was William Lynn Sanderson. Few people called him that, or maybe even knew that. He was simply "Ikey."
Ikey Sanderson. A legend at Louisiana Tech.
He was another of the great people in my life. I am sure many people feel the same way.
A description I've used for several people I've known and written about: He was a character ... with great character.
He was as jolly as Santa Claus. In fact, he looked like Santa Claus -- a dark-haired version without the beard. Well, he had the belly for it; didn't need any padding.
He was a wiseguy, full of jokes and stories and cracks that could just level people. But it was all good-spirited; there was nothing mean about Ikey. He also was a wise man; one could learn a lot being around him.
He was a world-class jokester, a practical joker (as you will see as you read on). He was also an even-tempered, mild-mannered guy, devoted to his family, to Tech and its people, to Choudrant, and to his church (taught a college Sunday School class and was on the board of deacons, at one point with his father).
The worst thing I ever heard him say -- in the rare instances when he was upset, such as when the Blue Goose was acting up -- was, "Aw, foot."
I've never heard anyone else say, "Aw, foot." Only Ikey.
And he was a politician. But don't get the wrong idea. He hardly had to run for anything.
He was mayor of the Village of Choudrant -- seven miles east of Ruston, just off Interstate-20 -- for 42 years. He was appointed to the job by the governor when the town was incorporated in 1949; he never had an opponent in an election until 1988, and of course, he won easily.
He was not only the most popular man in Choudrant, he might've been the most popular in all his time at Louisiana Tech -- again from 1949 through his retirement in 1978.
Two people at Tech in the 1950s, '60s and '70s who I came to know knew almost everyone at the university -- and had a story or tale for them. One was Berry Hinton, the longtime alumni director/baseball coach. The other was Ikey.
Coach Hinton could be quite salty but was a genuinely nice man ... and a helluva baseball coach in his time. But for meeting people or for popularity, no one could top Ikey Sanderson.
Harper Hall was a women's dorm at Tech and one day word got out there that a man was in the building. There was mild panic and some scrambling until one girl yelled, "Don't worry. It's just Ikey. He's here to change the lights."
Choudrant is now the home of the prestigious Squire Creek Country Club, which probably has helped boost the population to 845 (2010 census), so I guess by now it has at least one stoplight that does more than blink.
It is a suburb of sorts to the nearby "big city," Ruston (I know you're laughing). Here's the way I see it: Choudrant is a metropolis compared to my wife's hometown, Jamestown, La. (latest population: 139).
Choudrant's town slogan -- on its web site -- is "Louisiana's Front Porch." I like that.
The town is full of Sandersons, and in fact, a Sanderson has been mayor for 65 years now; Ikey's look-alike son, Bill, succeeded him after Ikey's passing after a massive heart attack in 1991. (And Bill and his family live 175 yards where he grew with Ikey and Clarice (Mrs. Ikey).
This is where Ikey spent most of his life; his father was the town druggist at the drug store there. It's where Ikey learned to deal with electronics; just after World War II, he helped set up the town for an electric system.
Here's something I think few people knew about Ikey: In World War II, he served with the U.S. Army in Italy, and he earned a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. He didn't talk about that.
What he saw in that war might've given him a soft spot for my family. Having learned of my parents' background, he always made a point of speaking to my Dad at Tech athletic events in the mid- to late 1960s. He knew about the suffering in Europe.
He came back to the U.S. and worked for a while at Western Electric in Corpus Christi, Texas. He learned to operate bigger vehicles, driving a watermelon truck in the area around Choudrant and then trucks carrying cotton from the gins in town (his great grandparents were cotton farmers).
Then, in 1949, the job opened at Louisiana Tech. When they needed sound systems or lighting set up, Ikey was the man. If there was an event on campus -- athletics, music, theater -- Ikey was there.
"He was involved with the band, orchestra, theater, sports, whatever," Bill remembered. "Mostly, he just loved dealing with people."
And those people also meant the people on the Blue Goose -- any group of 20-40 people traveling to represent Tech. That meant athletic teams -- coaches, players, even student sports information assistants.
Maybe the Blue Goose had some other drivers; I don't know. But not many, I can assure you. If it was rolling across Louisiana (or elsewhere), Ikey was probably at the wheel.
We knew we were in good hands.
He drove the Goose from its purchase in 1950 until it was replaced, about 1980. He kept driving even after his official retirement from his Tech job in 1978. They had replaced the engine and the transmission, changed out the entire transmission system. But they never replaced the driver. He even drove the new Trailways purchase a few times after the Goose was done.
You'd get on the bus for a trip of some length and there was a bin with sandwiches, milk and chips, etc., provided by the cafeteria people. The biggest problem was keeping Ikey out of it.
About those road trips: Rooming with Ikey was fun, except ...
He was a world champion at snoring. He roared. Guarantee you that wherever we were -- South Louisiana, South Texas -- they could him snoring back in Choudrant.
Plus, because he was the bus driver, he needed his sleep. So when we got back to the hotel after games, he was in bed like two minutes after we got to the room.
For me, having to compile statistics or write a story and -- as is still the case -- trying to unwind from the game, that meant bailing out and a lot of lobby-sitting time. And then trying to go to sleep with Mr. Sanderson's blasts ... ha!
The way I figure it, the Sanderson family owes me for about a month's worth of lost sleeping time.
But Ikey was always prompt. We left and arrived on time. And he didn't rattle, if traffic was tough or a parking spot was hard to find. Coach Scotty Robertson was always pretty sure of himself and could be quite dictatorial, and when (or if) he had directions for Ikey, Ikey would listen ... and then do what he knew was best.
Here's what else about Ikey: He could, and would, pick on anyone if he found a reason. My friend Keith Prince, for 25 years the sports information director at Tech, was laughing about this recently. "Didn't matter if it was the school president or the janitor," he recalled, "if Ikey found something to tease someone about, he'd do it."
Yep, Ikey had something for everyone.
We had two basketball players -- let's call them Watson and Gregory -- who nearly came to blows on one bus trip. Ikey heard the commotion.
Next time we were getting on the bus, Ikey turned and said, "Some of you guys sit between Watson and Gregory. Keep 'em apart."
Maybe the next time, it was: "Watson, you and Gregory can sit next to each other, and be nice."
And Ikey loved to pick on me, the Jewish kid. I didn't keep kosher, but that didn't matter to Ikey. The subject matter was that ham wasn't kosher. So on one of our first trips to South Louisiana, Ikey pulled the bus up to Lea's Lunchroom -- a traditional stop in Lecompte (just below Alexandria), well-known for its ham sandwiches.
"OK, everyone, let's eat," Ikey announced. "Nico, you can just stay on the bus."
Another story, same vein, my senior year at Tech. Ikey invited my Tech sportswriting partner, O.K. "Buddy" Davis, and me to lunch at the Sanderson home in Choudrant. We sat down to eat and the sweet Miss Clarice served up soup in a bowl. Pea soup.
"See those pink specks," Ikey quickly pointed out to me. "That's ham. You can just pick those out and put 'em aside on this plate." Very funny, Ikey.
But here was the worst thing he did to me. We were in Thibodaux, La., to play Nicholls State, and the team sat for the pregame meal -- baked potato, green beans, a nice steak. They served everyone, and I was the last to be served.
My plate had one sliver of steak ... with the little blue tab "medium rare" stuck in it.
I looked at that piece and looked up to the other end of the table. The jolly little round man was just chuckling. Ikey's practical joke, and the joke was on me.
I don't know if Ikey Sanderson is in any Louisiana Tech Hall of Fame. He should be. I know he is in my people Hall of Fame. He was one special man.
|Three views of Louisiana Tech's old Blue Goose,|
still alive (sort of) at the bus barn
(photos provided by Philip Neaville)