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James C. Sanders (1865-1922)


Posted By: Debra Scott Hierlmeier (email)
Date: 11/25/2008 at 23:55:33

James C. Sanders 1865-1922
Death of a Beloved Citizen
James c. Sanders, Superintendant of the Avoca Schools, Passed away at Presbyterian Hospital in Omaha.
His remains were brought to Avoca for burial.

James. C. Sanders, superintendent of the Avoca public schools for the past three years passed away at the Presbyterian hospital at Omaha early Wednesday morning July 1, 1922, after an illness of six weeks. When the end came he was surrounded by his family and a few friends.

The remains were brought to Avoca Wednesday evening, accompanied by Ed F. Oxley and George W. Preston who were called to Omaha a few hours before his death. At the station they were met by kind friends who attended the remains to his late home. Funeral services will be held at the home Friday, July14, at 2:30 o’clock.

John c. Sanders was born at Vinton, Iowa, where he grew to manhood. After graduating from the Vinton High school he attended Coe College and the State University, working his way, after which he followed the profession of teaching. His one ambition in life was to get an education so that he could help others less fortunate. He was a band director, a soloist of unusual ability.

In 1908, he was appointed warden at the penitentiary at Fort Madison which position he held for ten years. He was recognized through the world as a leading prison reformer. While warden at the Iowa penitentiary he put into practice many of the prison policies that are being followed now in prisons in many other states.

After resigning his post as warden he became superintendent of schools at Avoca, Iowa, which position he held at the time of his death. His health had not been good for the past six months and broke down after he had begun on a summer chautauqua (*)tour to speak on his prison experiences. Mr. Sanders is said to have been the first warden in the country to believe in and take advantage of individuality in state prisoners. He leaves his wife, a son and daughter, two brothers and one sister to survive him.
(* an annual summer school or educational gathering, often held outdoors and offering lectures, concerts, and theatrical performances )

He leaves a widow, one son, Roger, and a daughter, Grace; one sister, Mrs. K. Riggins of Corwith, Iowa; two brothers, Frank of Charles city, Iowa and John of Indiana, and other relatives.

One of his first rulings was that the old striped uniform was to be discarded, only to be worn when discipline could not be enforced otherwise. The warden insisted on better food, prepared in a more sanitary manner and urged that variety be added to the menu, new window curtains were provided and individual drinking cups given to each of the prisoners. A barber shop was placed in the main building, and water and facilities made available for bathing.

Not only were the physical comforts of the men improved but also the mental development encouraged. After overcoming opposition of state authorities, the warden installed a school, with a capable corps of instructors. Much of the instruction was individual and when the plan was first put in operation, Mr. Sanders spent much of his time in the schoolroom.

A library of 10,000 volumes stands as a tribute to his efforts.

The Iowa state prison is the only one in the country that has a chautauqua of its own. Talent traveling through the country was engaged by prison authorities to supplement the daily chapel exercises.

An orchestra, glee club, prison publication, baseball teams and athletic associations were among the other things instituted. The prison farm of 210 acres was purchased through the insistence of Mr. Sanders; now it furnishes much of the food that is eaten.

Superintendent Sanders came to Avoca from Des Moines in the fall of 1919. During his three short years here he endeared himself to the hearts of the people. He was loved by all and his death cast a shadow over the community that time alone can dispel. Mr. Sanders was a man with a big heart, kind to all. His last words to the written were, “tell my friends in Avoca that I love them all. I want to get well so I may return and serve the.”

The writer became acquainted with Mr. Sanders when he first arrived in Avoca. We knew him as but few men did. There never was a kinder or more sympathetic, god-loving man in our city. We have known him to be out looking after and caring for others when he should have been in the care of a physician himself. He loved to make others happy, never an unkind word for his fellowman. Especially he loved children, his school work and the community. His main ambition was to help create a true community spirit in Avoca such as would benefit all.

In the death of Mr. Sanders Avoca and community has lost a dear, true friend and neighbor, his family a kind and loving husband and father, whose place among us can never be filled. His teaching and work in Avoca will have its effect for years to come. Many are the ideals instilled in the minds of our children, his pupils that will follow them all the days of their life.

Mrs. Sanders and family have the deepest sympathy of the community in their sorrow. The following poem was written by Mr. Sanders at the close of school and dedicated to the teachers and pupils.
Te rose gives the perfume and withers,
The petals blush and they fall
To the earth, and weave with the heather
A delicate fabric for all.
The landscape and its beauty are fleeting,
The song of the bird dies away,
The breath of the gentle zephyr
Cools the brow for a passing day.
True friendship has the flower’s perfume
‘Ts a fabric not woven in a day
A song that rings down the ages
A zephyr forever and aye.
It brings a sweet benediction
For the weary and sad to the end,
It teaches the lesson of kindness
This priceless possession, a FRIEND.
By J. C. Sanders

Thousands Honor James C. Sanders
Great Throng at Funeral at Avoca and Thousands send Condolences.
Was a Real Benefactor
Prison Reforms Instituted by the Deceased Will Always Survive as a Memorial to the Man of the Hour.

Special to the Nonpareil

Avoca, Ia., July 15-----
James C. Sanders, 57 years of age, who died at the Presbyterian hospital in Omaha Wednesday, July 12, of urenic poisioning, were held in Avoca, Friday afternoon.

Mr. Sanders was born at Vinton, Iowa, where he grew to manhood. He graduated from Vinton High school, Coe College, Iowa State University and Iowa State Teachers College, and had several honorary degrees conferred upon him.

His name and photograph are in Iowa’s Blue Book where he is cited as a philanthropist. He leaves a widow, one son, roger, and a daughter, Grace; one sister, Mrs. K. Riggins of Corwith, Iowa; two brothers, Frank of Charles city, Iowa and John of Indiana, and other relatives.

A Prison Reformer
He was warden at Ft. Madison penitentiary from 1908 to 1918, and won national honor and repute especially in prison circles as a reformer of merit. He was father of the Honor System which has been adopted by ever penal institution in the U.S. He originated the idea of closing down prison work on Saturday afternoon when he coached the men in basketball and baseball and the band was on parade. Mr. Sanders was a talented musician and introduced the first music inside a prison wall. He organized and trained a prison band and orchestra. At present there is music in all the prisons.
He was the first warden to remove stripes and establish grades. Through his persistent efforts a prison school was established, a library installed and a permanent chatauqua for Ft. Madison was secured. As a result of his efforts for the betterment of the inmates there was not a riot nor a serious disturbance during his ten years incumbency.

Engaged in Teaching
After severing his connections with the state he taught a year in Des Moines and was then elected superintendent of the Avoca school, which position he had filled for three years and was re-elected for the fourth. His vacations were spent on the chautauqua platform. His best lecture was entitled “Treating Men as Men.”

At the close of the school year he went to Illinois where he began this season’s chautauqua work, but filled only one engagement, when he collapsed and was taken to the Methodist hospital in Des Moines and later to Omaha.

Three Years in Avoca
While a resident of Avoca but three years he endeared himself to the people and it was fitting indeed that his remains should be brought back to his late home city and there to rest under a mountain of flowers, which bore mute testimony of the esteem in which he was held.

Mr. Sanders was a 32 degree Mason and flowers were sent from prominent Masons through Iowa.

Numerous telegrams and letters of condolence were received from convicts and ex-convicts. Funeral services were conducted by Rev. W. B. Sanford of Cottage Grove Avenue Presbyterian church, Des Moines, of which church Mr. Sanders was a member.

The school band of sixty-four pieces, which he instructed, played “Nearer My God to Thee.” His Boys Glee Club sand “sweet Be Thy Rest..”

A male quartette composed of Dr. Maxwell, A.L. Meitzen, C. Vireck, and S. A. Garton sang “He is Not Dead but Sleepeth.” The pallbearers were G.W. Preston, Mr. Oxley, William Thies, F.M. Beymer and W. Auspach.

School Bell is Tolled
More than 1,000 people viewed the remains. As the funeral cortage passed, the school house the school bell was tolled. At the cemetery funeral dirges were played by the city band, Mayor William Niemann issued a proclamation that the national emblem be displayed on all buildings at half mast, from noon Friday until sundown and requested all places of business to close during the funeral.
In the passing of Mr. Sanders the home, the (article cut off)

Some bear them carelessly, as society itself, but others are hastening the time to a better understanding. Such men as Sanders of Iowa remain unique only a little while---and they never work in vain.

Thus did Richard Washburn Child, present ambassador to Italy, former editor of collier’s, an author and writer for magazines, pay tribute to J. c. Sanders back in 1913 when Sanders, whose passion was to salvage men, was the warden of the penitentiary at Ft. Madison and was working out his honor system. It seems that child was interested in the Keokuk power project and while down there became acquainted with Sanders.

Hundreds of friends and admirers of the former warden were shocked to learn of his death of uremic poisoning at a hospital in Omaha, Wednesday. For the past three years he has been superintendent of schools at Avoca and had started out on a summer chautauqua tour as a lecturer when he was overcome.

The character sketch which Richard Washburn Child drew of Sanders back in 1913 told something of the man’s early history.

“He had been a bandmaster in a circus, wrote Child. “He had played professional baseball and had been an umpire in one of the western leagues and in many other ways he had come close to human life. His face was full of good nature and the eternal spirit of boyhood. His body was stocky. If you looked for it you could find a strong suggestion of will power somewhere behind his bantering eyes and in the lines about his mouth and in his thick-thumbed, powerful hands. That was J. C. Sanders. He had introduced new methods in school teaching. He was not content to teach and discipline for so many hours a day. He made boys and girls open their lives to him. He opened his life to them. When he had landed the stubborn youth in the net of his confidence and repaired the damage done by unfit parents or by unfair home life or even by crooked heredity, sanders spirit would throw his head back somewhere inside of him and crow like a rooster. Sanders was having the time of his life. Salvage was Sanders’ profession and he loved it.”

It Was a Strange Call

Bang. Out of a clear sky came the stroke which notified him that the board of control of the state penitentiary had picked him for the warden’s job, and chosen him to be the custodian of the restraining of half a thousand bad ones. It was a strange call. Where are the high school principals who would say yes to this stirring proposal? But Sanders thought of the 500 criminals, the hardest, most illusive game in the profession of man salvage.

Plenty were the arrangements, the rules and regulations, the manners and customs that the new warden wanted to change when he came to live at the penitentiary. Yet these were details compared with the one thing which Sanders, who is nothing of a sentimentalist, wanted to turn inside out.

First of all, he could not see any reason to treat prisoners inhumanly. He believed that this was somewhat out of keeping with civilized manners and customs. Furthermore, cruelty and insults neither added to nor subtracted from the punishment of mind which is made to see more clearly day by day its own wasted or perverted history, its lost chance.

Nor could the high school principal believe that the state gained anything by depriving a man of his right to health. Aside from common decency said Sanders to me, “Let us look at these men as 500 machines that turn out products for the state. I can show you on paper that there is more money in giving them proper air, clothes, sleep, food, and education.”

Finally, Sanders could not see why 500 men of the population, even though segregated, should not be made better men rather than worse men. Salvage was his profession, and said he to me: “Why not try to graduate better men?”

Besides instituting the honor system at Fort Madison, Sanders developed a school and enlarged the library. He resigned as warden in 1917 and went back to school teaching. There had been many escapes from the prison and criticism that Sanders honor system was a failure. Sanders himself was disappointed, his friends at that time suspected, because so many men he had trusted when others had turned their back had failed him. It is thought now that this had something to do with his failing health which soon overtook him.

From the Scrapbooks of Bessie Gross Gustafsen
Source: Avoca Journal Herald and Council Bluffs Nonpareil


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