Written by James Bernstein Friday, 12 April 2013 00:00
He is likely the oldest working reporter on Long Island, a bit slower in gait than he once was, a bit more stooped than in the past, but nearing 90 - his birthday is July 22 – Lou Sanders is still on the beat, making contacts, and keeping abreast of the most local of local news.
Sanders and his wife, Grace, founded the Mineola American in 1952, and although they sold the paper in 1992 to Karl Anton, owner of Anton Community Newspapers, and although Grace retired to their Mineola home years ago, Lou Sanders still reports for work at Anton headquarters in Mineola every morning.
He is rarely without a necktie, sport jacket and hat. He turns out a twice-monthly column, Around Town With Lou that has been a staple of the newspaper he once owned, and the community where he lives, since Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House.
“I want to work to the end of my days,” Sanders said last week, as he sat in the cubbyhole of an office he occupies at the Anton building. “I like to meet people. I like to talk to people. What would I do at home? Sit and watch TV?”
Sitting around was never an option for Sanders, the son of a paper salesman. He grew up in Garden City, was graduated from New York University with a degree in journalism, served in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II, worked to get a Sunday section on track for the Binghamton Press in upstate New York, and then used a $2,000 inheritance from his grandmother, Lilly Sharp of Garden City, to start the Mineola American.
“That’s all the money we had to start the paper,” Sanders said. “It sounds crazy now, but it only cost us $150 a week to print about 4,000 copies.” Before the first issue came out, Sanders and his wife knocked on the doors of small businesses to see if they would advertise. Enough said yes to make them think they could succeed. Grace Sanders, who had a business degree from Adelphi University in Garden City, kept the books. There was a single reporter to cover school board and village meetings.
Sanders did a lot of writing, and ad selling.
That is what he still does today. His column, folksy, small townish, and cheerful, reads like something out of a Sherwood Anderson novel about life in Middle America in a simpler, more gentle era.
A sprinkling from a recent column:
“He (the recently-deceased Msgr. Edward Tarrant of Corpus Christi Church, which Sanders attends) “loved the Giants, the Jets, the Mets and the Yankees. When he saw me, he always asked what time and what channel the game would be on.”
“On a brighter note, Joe Wood of Jackson Avenue has recovered from his long battle with pneumonia.” And: “Rose and Angelo are longtime residents of our village having lived on Clemens Road for 50 years.”
Such stuff is not grist for the larger daily newspapers in the area, or for the hip Internet websites. But that is fine with Sanders, who points out that many of the big papers are struggling, and many of the Internet sites are fighting to find their way in the world.
Sanders, a regular parishioner at Corpus Christi, combs his church, local restaurants such as Davenports and Churrasqueira, and small stores, for his material. He is both salesman and storyteller, picking up some money for the ad department, and collecting some local tidbits for the news department. He carries with him a tiny black notebook, which he fills with names and dates of people and places he wants to put into his column. He makes tiny markings in the well-worn book, smiles, and then stuffs it back into his pocket again. He is a founder of the Chamber of Commerce and is still on its board.
Village of Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss has known Sanders for decades. “He’s extremely well-known and extremely well-liked,” said Strauss. “There’s not a thing he hasn’t done or isn’t doing.” Said John Owens, editor of Anton newspapers, “He has an incredible work-ethic and it’s based not only on his personality but on his love of the community.”
It was always so, said one of his sons, Richard Sanders of Garden City, who was executive editor of People magazine and later Entertainment Weekly, before his retirement a few years ago. The son recalls his father’s incredible focus on work. Sanders would sometimes write from home when his children – he has another son, Thomas, a CPA, and a daughter, Sister Annmarie – were young. “I once cut my brother’s hair off, and he didn’t notice,” said Richard said, of a time decades ago.
“He loves getting lost in his work.”
Jaci Clement, executive editor of the Bethpage-based Fair Media Council, which monitors news organizations on Long Island, believes Sanders is the oldest-working journalist in Nassau and Suffolk counties. But someday, Sanders and his boss know, Sanders will be gone from the newsroom. Can anyone else fill his shoes?
“Oh God no,” Owens said. “You don’t replace a guy like that. He’s a gift.”