Monday, July 9, 2018

Oyer Alton Saunders (1889-1983)

From the Colorado Transcript, October 20, 1938.

  Hailing from a state that has yielded only a handful of profiles here on the site, Colorado resident Oyer Alton "Sandy" Saunders served one term in the Colorado state senate and prior to his service had held the post of coroner for Jefferson County for over a decade. One of only four politicians profiled here who were morticians by trade, Oyer A. Saunders was a native of the Buckeye State, being born in Crown City, Gallia County, Ohio on June 21, 1889. The son of Joseph Walter and Sarah Jane (Dailey) Saunders, little information could be located on Saunder's life in Ohio, excepting notice of his being a teacher and school superintendent in Gallia County, holding the latter post from 1918-1919.
  Oyer Saunders married in Gallia County on December 16, 1911, to Minnie Belle Gothard (1887-1953), with whom he had one son, Rothbe Oyer Saunders (1914-1933). In 1920 Saunders and his family removed from Ohio to Colorado, and early in his residency in that state was head of the physics department at the Boulder High School. This was followed by a stint as a high school principal in Fort Lupton and, later, an eight-year tenure as superintendent of schools for the city of Steamboat Springs.
   In 1930 Saunders and his family settled in Golden, Jefferson County, Colorado, and in that same year, he first entered into the mortuary business, purchasing the Woods Mortuary, which had been established in 1913. Despite having had no previous experience as a mortician, Saunders and a partner, T.E. Cline, pooled resources to purchase the business, with Cline handling the "technical details of the business" and Saunders serving as manager. In the Colorado Transcript write-up concerning the purchase, details note that Saunders and his family lived  "above the mortuary" for a time and that both he and Cline planned to "remodel and refurbish the establishment." 
   Beginning in 1936, the Woods Mortuary began a "ten months program of modernization" that eventually culminated with the addition of "soft lighting effects, rich draperies, soft carpeting, appropriate interior decoration, new equipment and beautifully furnished rooms for those who have passed on." The mortuary would also boast a new chapel, and in 1937 Saunders would purchase the neighboring Taft building, thereby enlarging the mortuary storefront. By the mid-1940s the building also contained a casket display room, and, following renovations, the second floor of the building had been converted to apartment housing.

The Woods Mortuary as it appeared in the October 20, 1938 Colorado Transcript.

   By 1932 the name of O.A. Saunders had been established in the Jefferson County community, and in that year Saunders made his first run at elected office, announcing his candidacy for county coroner. In September 1932 he entered into the primary race and in the latter part of the year several newspapers in the county highlighted his candidacy, with the Colorado Transcript noting:
"O.A. Saunders is the successor of William Woods in the Woods mortuary at Golden and is also the Republican candidate for coroner. He is the logical man to serve the county as coroner and should be given the vote of the high citizenry at Tuesday's primary election. He is a lifelong Republican and was the high designee of his party at the recent county assembly."
  Following his primary win that September Saunders would go on to win the election for coroner in November. He would continue to win reelection to that office well into the 1940s and garnered a reputation as an official of "efficiency, economy, and fair-dealing." Saunders first months as coroner were marred by the tragic death of his son Rothbe, who died aged 18 in January 1933, having undergone surgery for "sinus trouble" the previous December. This surgery was later compounded by flu and spinal meningitis, and following Rothbe's death on January 5th, O.A. Saunders presided over his son's funeral at the Woods Mortuary. The young man was later laid to rest at the Crown Hill Cemetery, his casket being escorted by a contingent of Colorado National Guardsmen, as well as a plane from the 120th observation squadron from the air service of the Colorado National Guard. 

From the Colorado Transcript, October 20, 1932.

From the Colorado Transcript, October 18, 1934.

   Through the 1930s and into the 1940s the name of Oyer Saunders continued prominence in Jefferson County, and in addition to his services as county coroner and mortuary director gained distinction in several other civic endeavors, including holding the presidency of the Golden Chamber of Commerce from 1941-42, the presidency of the local Kiwanis Club, serving as County Chairman of the Red Cross Drive during WWII, and was a member of the Golden City Lodge #1 of Free and Accepted Masons. In 1935 and 1936 Saunders served back to back terms as president of the Colorado Funeral Directors Association, and in November 1940 was appointed by Governor Ralph L. Carr as a member of the state board of embalming examiners for a four-year term.
   In 1945 Saunders and his wife Minne purchased T.E. Cline's entire interest in the Woods Mortuary and became that business' sole owners. Saunders would reach his highest degree of political prominence in August 1948 when he announced his candidacy for the Colorado state senate, and in that year his past business successes were touted in the August 20th edition of the Douglas County Record-Journal. In an article detailing his candidacy, Saunders acknowledged his wife Minnie as his "chief supporter and most helpful critic", and remarked:
"If I go to the Colorado Senate, I shall do my best to represent fairly the 8th Senatorial district as a whole. Its schools, educational and other institutions, business and professional interests, agriculture and civic improvements, shall have my cooperation--I think I have something to offer in the way of unbiased legislation."
  Saunders' opponent that year was Democratic nominee Ed Moder, a real estate dealer and later owner of the Jefferson Sentinel newspaper. In November 1948 it was Saunders who won out at the polls, besting Moder by a vote of 10,600 to 9,693. Taking his seat in January 1949, Saunders would serve one four year term and served on the following committees: Banking; Education and Educational Institutions; Fish, Forestry, and Game; Insurance and Interstate Cooperation; Medical Affairs; Mining and Metal. He would also chair the committee on Veteran's and Miltary Affairs during the 1949-50 session and chaired the Industrial Affairs committee from 1951-52.

Saunders campaign notice, September 24, 1948.

   Following his term, Oyer A. Saunder wasn't a candidate for renomination in 1952 and in May 1957 suffered the death of his wife of over forty years, Minnie. Sometime after his wife's death, Saunders would remarry to Ruby Merle Mylar Topping (1900-1990), who would survive him upon his death in 1983. Saunders' later years saw him residing in Evergreen, Colorado and in 1969 returned to his old home of Steamboat Springs to attend the 40th-anniversary reunion of the class of 1929. Oyer Alton Saunders died in Denver on January 13, 1983, at age 93. He was later interred alongside his wife Minnie and son Rothbe at the Crown Hill Cemetery in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.

From the Steamboat Pilot, September 4, 1969.

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