Dr. Jean Alan Sanders (“Alan”) passed away peacefully at home, and with his wife Diane, and sons, Karl and Curtis, on January 7, 2021. Alan would have celebrated his 92nd birthday on January 10, 2021.
Alan was born January 10, 1929 in Enid Oklahoma to Jean Sanders and Eunice Harriet Sanders (Holmes). Alan’s family included an older brother, John Noel Sanders, who passed away in 2009.
Alan’s early years were spent riding out the Great Depression with his family on a farm in Vernon County, Missouri. Alan’s childhood home did not have running water or indoor plumbing, and Alan’s father Jean provided for his family by running a small farm. His mother Eunice worked as a public health nurse, after serving as a Red Cross nurse in Rouen, France during World War I. Alan’s first years of schooling were in a one-room schoolhouse, and he graduated high school from Sheldon High School in Sheldon, Missouri with a class of twelve graduates. Alan credited his perfect teeth in later years to drinking from a water well on his childhood farm which contained just the right amount of minerals.
After Alan’s father passed away unexpectedly in 1949, Alan was drafted into the Army in 1951, after several unsuccessful attempts to enlist. In 1952, Alan graduated from Counterintelligence Corps training school in Fort Holabird, Maryland, and spent the remainder of his active duty in Hoff, Germany as a plainclothes officer interrogating refugees entering West Germany from East Germany. After his honorable discharge in 1953, Alan attended Wichita State University, the University of Missouri, and the University of Kansas with funds provided by the G.I. Bill and by various odd jobs, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Wichita State University in 1955.
While attending college in Wichita, Alan met the love of his life, Diane Sanders (Sandberg), on a blind date in 1955. Alan and Diane were married on June 22, 1958, and were seldom, if ever, apart for the next sixty-two years.
After college graduation, Alan attended the University of Kansas School of Medicine, receiving his doctorate of medicine in 1960. Alan served an internship and a residency in anatomic and clinical pathology, at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, Kansas. While in Wichita, Alan and Diane welcomed the birth of their first son, Karl Alan Sanders, in 1962, and their second son, Curtis Bradley Sanders, in 1965. The family moved to Lawrence, Kansas in 1965, where Alan took a position as the first full-time pathologist of Lawrence Memorial Hospital (and for many years, a part-time Douglas County Coroner), and Alan and Diane continuously resided in Lawrence until Alan’s death. As part of his practice, Alan, along with his long-time partner Laurance (“Bud”) Price, founded Lawrence Clinical Laboratory, which Alan operated with Dr. Price and with Dr. Carol Moddrell. Alan served as national president of the Private Practitioners of Pathology from 1983-1984, and retired from the practice of medicine in 1997.
Alan’s and Diane’s marriage was a true partnership, and few, if any, activities of either Alan or Diane was a solo endeavor. Even Alan’s passion for sailing was nervously tolerated by Diane. The best example of this partnership was Alan and Diane’s riding a tandem bicycle across Iowa, and other bicycling trips, some short, and some long, including trips across both Kansas and Iowa, and through France. Alan and Diane also shared a passion for gardening, and starting with their earliest days in Lawrence, planted and harvested vegetable gardens over more than fifty hot Kansas summers, including corn, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, and beans.
Alan enjoyed many diverse activities such as playing piano and banjo, tennis, skiing, religious studies, foreign language studies, auditing classes at the University of Kansas, reading, gardening, and travel. Alan enjoyed the companionship of many dogs over the years, most recently including his and Diane’s adoption of their shelter dog “Annie.” He also patiently abided his sons’ pet hamsters, lizards, snakes, ducks, frogs, turtles, a chicken, a rabbit, a few cats, and for a mercifully short period of time, a pet alligator. His most recent trip involved traveling to northeast Kansas to enjoy the total solar eclipse in the company of his entire family, including his young grandchildren. Although Alan spent time in his youth working as a fry cook at the White Grill restaurant in Iola, Kansas, his best dishes were Sunday night popcorn, and the occasional scrambled egg and mustard sandwich. Alan was naturally curious and inquisitive, and a lifelong learner, and these traits kept Alan very busy during his twenty-three years of retirement.
Alan’s true passion was his service to Plymouth Congregational Church, and to the Lawrence community. Alan was a founder of Visiting Nurses Association of Lawrence in 1969, and a past member of both the Lawrence Kiwanis Club and the noon Rotary Club. Alan also served on the Lawrence Public Library board of directors, and was a volunteer reader for the University of Kansas audio reader program. Over the years, Alan and Diane were active participants (including as a host family for many students) in the University of Kansas foreign exchange program, as well as Meals on Wheels, and more recently, were participants in Justice Matters.
Alan and Diane joined Plymouth Congregational Church in 1966. One of Alan’s proudest accomplishments was his early involvement in Plymouth’s adoption and implementation of its Open and Affirming policy, intended to make Plymouth welcoming to all people. Alan participated in the drafting of the Opening and Affirming policy statement, which includes the words: “We work and pray for the progress of knowledge, the promotion of justice, and the realization of our shared humanity.”
Alan’s most lasting legacy is the numerous examples of kindness, honesty, and integrity that he set for his family, friends, and co-workers over his entire lifetime. Alan led by example, rather than by instruction, and was at all times caring, warm-hearted, and generous. He was tolerant and accepting of all types, shapes, sizes and colors of people, and actively sought out the company of people with whom he had nothing in common. Alan was a loving and attentive husband and father, and provided his family with the privileges and comforts that he himself did not enjoy during his childhood in depression-era rural Missouri. Until he retired, Alan worked long days, and half days on Saturdays. Most evenings, he would fall asleep after dinner in a favorite chair with a scholarly or professional journal on his chest.
Alan’s most enduring trait was his abject unflappability. For Alan, nothing was ever worth much worry, or ever as bad as it seemed, and certainly nothing was worth losing sleep over, especially a good nap. Clear-headed thinking, and always taking the “long view” helped Alan lead a long life, and more importantly, a good life.
Alan is survived by his wife of sixty-two years, Diane Sue Sanders (Sandberg). He is also survived by his son, Karl Alan Sanders, his daughter-in-law, Natalie Sanders (Reeves) of Salt Lake City, Utah, and grandchildren Sam Lawlor Sanders, Travis Alan Sanders, and Ruby Anne Sanders, and is also survived by his son Curtis Bradley Sanders, his daughter-in-law Catherine Sanders (Barta) of Aspen, Colorado, and grandchildren Lily Louise Sanders and Edward Bensen Sanders. Extended family include his niece Susan Bridwell (Sanders) and her husband Craig Bridwell of Fernandina Beach, Florida; nephew John David Sanders and his wife Su Sanders of St. Charles, Missouri; sister-in-law Sue Sandberg of Wichita, Kansas; nephew Clarke Sandberg and his wife Sharolyn Sandberg of Wichita, Kansas; and nephew Joseph Sandberg and his wife Emily Sandberg of Las Vegas, Nevada.
In honor of Alan’s service to community and church, the family requests donations in Alan’s name to Meals on Wheels of Lawrence (www.lawrencemow.org) or Plymouth Congregational Church (www.plymouthlawrence.com) in care of Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 West 13th Street, Lawrence, Kansas 66044. For more information, or to post a condolence, please go to www.warrenmcelwain.com. An in-person service honoring Alan’s memory will be held at a later date at Plymouth Congregational Church.