Some heroes fly high. Others slip along just beneath the radar.
For the most part, Dr. Robert G. Sanderson has been one of the latter.
In a quiet tribute on Oct. 4, the Utah Community Center for the Deaf will become forever known as the Robert G. Sanderson Community Center for the Deaf. And, to paraphrase Lincoln, the world will little note what transpires.
Yet it should. According to local advocates, it is hard to over-state the contributions to deaf awareness that this understated Utahn has made over the years.
He was the first deaf professional hired by the state board of education. He was the first deaf person in Utah to earn a doctorate degree. He received his doctorate from BYU in 1974 before classrooms had interpreters. He also earned it, he has said, simply to show it could be done.
He has lobbied on behalf of deaf and hard-of-hearing Utahns for more than 40 years. Many of the services provided to the hearing impaired community today were his original ideas.
It was just a century ago that hearing-impaired people were not allowed to drive and were even discouraged from marrying. But because of the pioneering efforts of Sanderson, Dave Mortensen, Dennis Platt and others like them, hearing-impaired people have been successfully integrated into mainstream society.
In Utah, the idea of having a meeting place for the deaf first surfaced in 1946. In 1992, 46 years later, the current center finally opened its doors. Bob Sanderson should get a large portion of the credit for keeping the dream alive.
Born in Las Vegas, Sanderson contracted spinal meningitis as a boy and was deafened by the disease at age 11. He attended the Utah School for the Deaf in Ogden, where he graduated. He later graduated from Gallaudet College in 1941 and married Mary Antonietti in 1946. The couple set up housekeeping in Roy when Sanderson took a job as a draftsman for Weber County. He immediately went to work to highlight the problems and the accomplishments of those in the deaf community.
"Bob reminds me of the Energizer Bunny," said Marilyn Call, administrator in the Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. "Though his body is 84, his passion for advocacy is still young. He never gives up."
The tribute he will receive is both fitting and timely.
It is a tribute that deserves to show up clearly on our community radar.