July 8, 2020
By what measure do you judge the value of a man’s life: the love and care for his family, the breadth and depth of his friendships, the quality and extent of his work, the strength and scope of his mind, or the grace and dignity by which he lives. Donald Sanderson (Don or Donny to his friends) was a family man first and last. Much beloved and only son of Leonard and Christine, loyal husband to Fern, tender and loving father to his daughters (Megan, Emily, Jessica and Leah), and kind and generous brother to his sisters (Lauranne, Joanne, Mary, and Melanie). He celebrated his children and was proud of their achievements. Words do not adequately reflect the scope of his love for his family or them for him.
Love for his family and his friends sustained him. He was the type of person who made friends for life. Dave Eaton said that walking from class on the first day of school at the University of Guelph was the start of a lifelong friendship. Close friends Kirby Philp, Denny Kerrigan & Jim Wyatt treated him like a “brother”. He made friends wherever he went and whatever he did, and they spanned many aspects of his life: friends from back home, friends from university, friends at work, friends from baseball, friends from hockey, and friends from church–a wealth of friends. Donald and Fern loved to entertain, bringing all their friends together to share stories, dance and laugh. All of those great friendships defined a large part of who he was. It is impossible to begin to list everyone but as Fern says: “they are all on our Evite List.”
His capacity for love went beyond simply family and friends. To quote his friend, Grant, “he was an engineer by trade and a farmer by birthright.” From an early age, he loved to build things: a tree house when he was eleven, various playhouses over a span of 50 years for his sisters and children, tractor cabs in his teenage years and then forward to a career in engineering. Welder, carpenter, mechanic, and inventor are only a few of his descriptors; there was little he could not fix or build. When dating Fern, he fixed her car and she said “I’m going to marry that man”. Completing a Bachelor of Science (Engineering) at the University of Guelph started him on a career path in the agricultural machinery industry. He established himself as an expert in tillage system design and production, and he worked for a number of top equipment companies from Vicon, to Case to AGrisolutions/ Ingersoll. The industry continued to rely on his expertise well after his retirement. He held several patents and the latest one was the Zamboni he designed for his hockey rink aka the backyard pond.
Perhaps, his greatest passion beyond his family (and hockey) was farming. His heart was tied to a small farm in Howick Township, Huron County, Ontario. “The boy” as his father called him (even into his thirties) was an integral part of the Sanderson farms from an early age. Driving and fixing machinery, planting and harvesting, and planning and accounting were all part of his skill set which obviously served double value in his work career. He was constantly trying new things on the farm: he convinced Dad to grow soybeans and winter wheat, to incorporate no-till and to switch from green to red equipment. The home farm served as a logical place to try out his new designs from work. Starting as a helpmate to his father, then partner and after Leonard died, farming alone (with help from Fern and Grant), Donald found comfort and solace in his connection to the land. Many times, he would drive to the farm from work (over an hour’s drive) and then work until midnight. The home farm was the lodestone of his life. He was heartbroken when it was sold after the death of his mother.
Yet, his biggest heart break was the diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer over 3 years ago. Martin Luther King wrote that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” Donald met the challenge of his cancer diagnosis with grace, determination and stoicism. With Fern as his support, advocate, nurse and champion, they agreed that they would “go hard” for as long as they could and he told his family “Not to Wallow”. They travelled (Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Cuba, Florida and California), skied – Lake Louise, built a house, visited friends and family, and worked on the farm in between bouts of chemo. He played hockey up until his last 4 months of life, and his trip last October to Croatia to play in a hockey tournament was considered his best hockey trip ever. He would come home from hockey and tell Fern – his team came in second (again). She was so proud, until she caught on!
Donald died May 2nd 2020 at home in Puslinch, at 62 with Fern and his 4 daughters holding him close. He leaves behind his wife of 24 years, Fern Donaldson, daughters Megan, Emily, Jessica and Leah.Sisters – Lauranne (Lloyd Mapplebeck) Truro, N.S., Joanne (Rob Annett) Bothwell, Mary (Michael Park) Fordwich, Melanie (Danny Miklosko) England. Mother-in-law Sheila Woodall, Brother-in-law, Mark Donaldson (Patti MacPhee), Sister-in-laws Laura Donaldson (John Hollands), Connie Baran (Duane) and many Nieces & Nephews. Thank you to Drs. Karanicolas, Ko and Ashamalla, and Christina Kim at Sunnybrook for the care and treatment that allowed us to max out our time with Donald. Thank you to Dr. Spadafora and Louise Bilodeau for helping us over the past few weeks. Those who wish to make a donation in Donald’s memory are asked to consider Arkell United Church, 600 Arkell, Rd, Arkell, ON N0B 1C0 or Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Centre. As per Donald’s request, there will not be a funeral. At a later date – when we can all wallow, cry, laugh, hug, kiss and tell stories, we will have a Reminiscence of Life – where as Donald would say, the stories will be misremembered and twice as funny.
So Donald, you will be always remembered for your dry wit, your quiet friendship and your capacity for love. So how do we measure the value of a man’s life: by how he is remembered.