Remembering Mrs. Sanderson

By Joni Reynolds

When I asked if it would be possible to write an article celebrating the life of my friend and teaching colleague, Judy Ortner Sanderson, for our last 2018 edition of “The Dolphin Tail,” I had no idea how painful and joyful the experience would be!  It turns out that, when you want to share the life of someone who was bigger than life, it becomes quite a task! I didn’t know where to start! Would I forget something important? Would it be enough to honor someone who was so important to so many? I finally decided to start at the beginning, and hope that, by the end, the readers of this piece might have a better understanding of who Judy Sanderson was, and why she will remain in the hearts of everyone who knew her.

Judy was born on April 7th, 1955, in Alameda, California.  She attended Edison Elementary School, Lincoln Middle School, and graduated from Alameda High School in 1971.  (So that she will continue to rest in peace…I decided NOT to add any of her high school cheerleading pictures!  You’re welcome, Judy!)  Judy went on to UCLA, where she became a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1975. Judy taught school in the Alameda Unified School District for 36 years. She often commented that her favorite grade level to teach was Kindergarten, but it is a little known fact that she was also an amazing middle school math teacher! Judy Sanderson lost her battles with cancer (and epic battles they were!) on October 5th, 2017.

Judy Sanderson is the undisputed Queen of Kindergarten, but, she was so much more. The loving daughter of Jan Ortner, an amazing Kinder teacher, herself. The devoted wife of the wonderful Stu Sanderson, who could be found most weekends at Bay Farm School in Room 112,  putting up and taking down Judy’s intricate bulletin boards covered in gingerbread men, butterflies, chicks, and Mother Goose characters. The adoring mother of Tyler, Eagle Scout, and graduate of both Alameda High and UC Davis. Tyler continues to emulate his mother’s work ethic in the field of bio-medicine, and her joy for life in his music and friendships. Loyal friend to so many, their numbers defy counting!  Evidence of this was seen at her Celebration of Life Service on October 21st at Christ Episcopal Church. It was standing room only on both the ground level and in the balcony.  Stories were told, songs were sung, tears were shed, and, at times, the laughter could be heard outside the church by passersby.

The only thing more beautiful than this service was the Monday after, when the entire student body and staff sang “This Little Light of Mine” at Morning Ceremonies.  (My husband called me a few minutes after this and told me he could hear the singing from our house across the greenbelt!)  Judy was also a devoted sister and auntie in both the Ortner and Sanderson families.  Her holiday celebrations were legendary!  Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and the most popular event, her 4th of July bash!  Her house would be decorated to within an inch of its life, and there would be goodie bags and treats sent home with all invited.  (Little known fact #2…we were always thrilled when she offered to host committee meetings at her house, because her snacks were always amazing!)

Judy was one of the pioneer teachers at Bay Farm School when it opened 25 years ago.  She was instrumental in bringing the M.A.R.E. Ocean Program to Bay Farm, implemented the school-wide creation and application of the underwater tile mosaic project outside the Multi-Purpose Room in 2007, and held the Winter and Summer Olympic Games for the Kindergarteners every 2-4 years.  It was not unusual to see her in full pilgrim garb as she hosted the yearly Thanksgiving Feast, leading her kiddos in search of the Gingerbread Man (who had escaped…again!), or at the front of the line in the Chinese Day Parade. Watching her “light the torch” at the Olympic Games was always a thrill, and guessing how many Kinder Theme Sweaters she had was a favorite pastime for many of our staff.

If you were on a committee with Judy, you knew things were going to get done, and get done right!  She mentored countless teachers, worked diligently with parents, and made every day magical for every student who walked into room 112.  She was no nonsense, but knew how to be silly.  She had high standards, but took every single student as they came, making them all feel special and important.  She was the go-to person if you needed anything from ideas, to advice, to a shoulder to cry on, to glitter!  If you are lucky enough to have worked with or known Judy, you are a better person for it.  Period.

I could go on and on (and on!), but I think you get the picture.  Judy Sanderson was our friend, our mentor, our sounding board, and our keeper of all information. She remains an icon in the teaching profession, and a rock star in the hearts and memories of her former students and their parents.  She was a warrior as she battled against cancer, and gracefully and graciously left this world way too soon. Our Relay for Life Team (we call ourselves WWJD or “What Would Judy Do!?”) will walk proudly in her honor on June 9th.  We will tell stories, sing songs, shed tears, and laugh loudly enough to be heard by passersby…because that’s what Judy would do!

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