Friday, April 4, 2014

Our man Ikey, a legend at Tech

Ikey Sanderson
          For a dozen college basketball trips while I was at Louisiana Tech University 45-50 years ago, my roommate was the Mayor of Choudrant, La.
         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)


  1. From Maxie Hays: Maybe your best blog for me. I knew Ikey quite well, too. I just loved this; I can't quit laughing. Bless your heart -- having to room with Ikey. Too funny. My roommate, Billy Ware, was a center from Selma, Ala. Billy loved Ikey and after every football trip on the Blue Goose, Billy had to tell me all the "Ikey" stories first thing. I only made one trip on the Blue Goose with Ikey. I was in the Tech Choir and Ikey took us to Shreveport one time for a TV performance. Everyone loved Ikey.
    I will read this post a few more times just for the laughs. Awesome, wonderful and incredible.

  2. From Jesse Carrigan: Great, Nico! He was very fond of my brother Claude ... a great memory, thanks.

  3. From Bud Dean: My two favorite Ikey stories: We never stopped at Lea's, but there was a Whipt Dip in Lecompte and Mouse (Malcolm Smith) would start a chant of “ice cream, Ikey” before we got to the town limits; and (2) my senior year we lost at McNeese (we were 0-3 there in my three varsity years) and Coach Robertson was so angry that he told Ikey to drive straight to Ruston. Ikey refused unless we were fed, and there were words, but we ate that night.

  4. From Randy Walker: I recall being on the Blue Goose with Ikey and coming back to Ruston with the track team in the spring of 1965. We were returning from Montgomery, Ala., and just outside Selma, Ala., the engine blew on the bus. Ikey was able to get 5-6 taxis to come outside town to pick up the 20 or so boys and we went into Selma to wait at the Greyhound bus station. Ikey made a few phone calls (before cell and 800 numbers) and then announced that he had chartered a Trailways bus and it was on the way through Selma, but it would be 2-4 hours. We enjoyed the cuisine from Tim’s Café (a diner next door to the bus station). Right down the main street was the famous Selma bridge where the civil right marches were taking place. We did not have any trouble that day, but I recall that we were all relieved when the Trailways bus arrived and we headed home to Ruston.
    I do remember that Ikey liked to give (Tech trainer) Glenn “Moose” Tilley a hard time, but it was all in fun.
    I also recall that Ikey’s brother Red was a civilian employee for the AFROTC unit at Tech.

  5. From Don Landry: Thanks for doing the great story on Ikey.
    Here is my Ikey story. I was coaching the Louisiana Tech freshmen basketball team. We were playing in Texas against one of the junior colleges. Besides driving the bus, Ikey would keep the scorebook. Late in the game several (I do not remember how many) of our players had fouled out. We were down to only four players. I called a timeout and invented a 2-2 zone. As play resumed, a foul was called on one of our players; it was called on a player with less than four fouls. However, Ikey (he was always honest) was protesting that the foul should be credited to one of our players who had four fouls. I was trying to shut him up because I did not know how to design a 1-2 zone.
    We all loved Ikey. He was fun to be with, and he was a Tech legend.

  6. From Tim Hall: Ikey is in my Hall of Fame, as well. I could tell you an hour's worth of stories about him, as I am certain most every Tech athlete who ever rode on his bus could do.
    In 1989, I was working with Century Telephone and had been named the regional vice-president in Louisiana. We were headquartered in Alexandria. When I took over the organization the first problem I had to deal with was a serious service complaint in Choudrant, La. I was told the mayor of Choudrant had been particularly tough to deal with and wanted some action as it pertained to the service issues in town. A couple of members of the staff had visited with him and assured me he was, indeed, crusty and they had not made much headway with him.
    You know where this is going, I'm sure. I called Ikey to see when he was going to be available to meet with me so that we could
    determine what needed to be done. In true Ikey Sanderson fashion he dished out a ration about how he thought Century Telephone would have put somebody in the job that could fix things like this ... what did I think I was going to do?
    We did have a great visit about a week later and the problem had been addressed -- and repaired -- before I got there. No way was I going to meet with him before the work had been done!
    And then there was the time the track team was returning from an indoor meet in Montgomery, Ala., when the engine on The Blue Goose threw a rod right out the side of the block, right outside of Selma, Ala.. We saw vintage Ikey Sanderson that day.

    Good stories ... great memories.

  7. From Sandra Newman Dyson: I have been waiting for this post about Ikey Sanderson. He is a true legend at Louisiana Tech and I can't thank Nico enough for writing this. Susan Odom and Lane Odom, know how proud you are of your dad and grandfather. There will never be another like him.

  8. From Kay Riser Prince: Ikey and my mom were first cousins, and he was always special to me. I saw the Blue Goose today; I wish it would be repainted and displayed at Tech home football games.

  9. From Tom Morris: I loved Ikey Sanderson, our Mr. Fixit for Louisiana Tech athletics back in the day. You nailed it with this blog.

  10. From Martha Kinman: I enjoyed the article. Brought back memories of my time spent while working at Tech Buildings & Grounds in the '60s with Ikey. It makes me smile to think of him and the time I spent working there.

  11. From Marilyn McIntyre Mayfield: I remember waiting for the Blue Goose to come by bringing the team to the State Fair Game ... it always seemed official when we saw it. Those were the days. I like Kay's suggestion about displaying it at home football games.

  12. From Philip Neaville: Enjoyed reading about Ikey Sanderson today on your blog. Knew him through my grandfather, Jim McElduff, who worked with him at the building and grounds department. I went to A.E. Phillips (Elementary School, on the Tech campus), so I saw him often.