Aloysius “Al” Jacob Sanderfoot — a self-made entrepreneur with only a sixth grade education — died Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, three days after his 84th birthday.
Born in Francis Creek, Wis. on Aug. 15, 1931, to Esther (Van Lanen; 1908-1990) and Lambert Sanderfoot (1908-1976), Al’s life spanned from the Great Depression through the Great Recession. His toddler years coincided with the worst economic period in U.S. history, with unemployment rising to 25 percent in 1933, the same year Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany.
Although Al enjoyed financial success — especially during the 1970s and 1980s — due to his business acumen and desire for financial independence, his life ended as the country was still emerging from the 2008 recession, the worst economic crisis in eight decades.
Raised on a family farm, Al was eight years old when the country began to recover from the Great Depression and military spending surged in preparation for America’s involvement in World War II. By then, Al was well aware of how his parents struggled to provide for him and his siblings: LaVern (1930-1979), Lyle (b. 1937) and David (1944-2007). Knowing what it was like to live in poverty, he saved nearly all the money he made, never wanting to be in a position of abject poverty again.
Al’s childhood years overlapped with those of the nation’s economic recovery and shaped his attitudes and philosophies about business and finance. At age 11, after graduating sixth grade, Al was forced to quite school and go to work to help support the family. One of his first jobs was as a “pin boy,” setting up pins in a bowling alley just as the sport was surging in popularity and before the first fully automatic pinsetter was introduced in 1946. His parents also hired him out as a laborer to local farmers.
When he was 16, Al joined the U.S. Army, where he was in the military police and served in Straubing, Germany from 1948-1952.
Because his parents relied on the money he was earning, Al felt that his value in life was commensurate with the paycheck he brought home. This is something he contended with his entire life and was a key factor in his drive to constantly be working and accumulating wealth. Although he might take a break here and there for a family function, he only enjoyed a couple of short vacations in his lifetime.
On Aug. 8, 1953, Al married Alice Jean Meloen (1933-2013), a high school graduate who was working as a secretary for a medical doctor. The couple met while on a double date; although Alice was on the date with Al’s best friend, Gene Kilsodonik, at the time.
The young couple initially worked on a farm, where they started their large family, which would eventually include seven children: Thomas (b. 1954, married to Jean, Louisville, Ky.); John (1956-1972); Donald (b. 1959, married to Linda, Appleton, Wis.); Michael (b. 1960, married to Roseanne, New London, Wis.); Richard (1962-2000); Alan (b. 1964, married to Jennifer, Madison, Wis.); and Catherine (b. 1972, married to Kevin Yerges, Cambridge, Wis.).
After his discharge from the Army in 1952, Al initially worked in a scrap yard in Appleton. He was then employed by Iron Works, where he helped install the tank at the American Legion in Appleton and the decorative iron grating at the old Lutheran school in New London. Other employment included stints as a boilermaker for Bergstrom Paper Company in Neenah, a welder for Fox Tractor in Appleton, and a mechanic for Curwood in New London.
Over the years, he moved from Appleton to Dale to Medina to Hortonville to Greenville — always in an effort to improve the family’s living conditions. He tried
his hand at agriculture when he purchased an 80-acre farm in 1965 in Sugar Bush. In 1968, he gave up farming, and he and Alice opened a popular teen recreation center in downtown New London, complete with pool tables, pinball machines, shuffleboard, bottled sodas and weekend bands. By the early 1970s, the rec center was replaced by a trophy and awards shop, with the business supplying ribbons, plaques, medals and trophies to local sports leagues, clubs, organizations and nonprofits. It was common for Al and Alice to work into the wee hours of the morning engraving trophies for a little league tournament or swim meet.
As a young father and burgeoning small businessman, Al still found time to play softball and pitched for several seasons.
Always on the lookout for the next business opportunity, Al began dealing in close-out merchandise, which he sold in the trophy shop. This area of the business became so profitable that he sold the trophy and awards business and focused just on selling general merchandise. After outgrowing the downtown New London location, he moved his family to a former farmstead in rural New London and built a new retail store just off of busy Highway 54.
For roughly 10 years, he ran Sanderfoot Sales with the help of his devoted wife and children. But after his children grew up and moved away from home, the operation was too much for him and Alice to handle alone. So he sold the business and began a new chapter of his life as a tavern owner.
Al had always enjoyed going to the local taverns and playing poker and Sheepshead with the other barflies. So earning a living on the other side of the bar was an appealing option for him. Since opening his first bar in Royalton, Wis., in 1985, Al had owned nine different bars, but never more than one at the same time. Just a few weeks before his death, he was still tending bar at Al’s Place, his latest establishment in Clintonville, where he hosted weekly poker games.
Somewhat skeptical of organized religion, Al nonetheless had deep faith in God and was a true Christian at heart. Although a crucifix hung in nearly every room of his house, he never wore his religion on his sleeve. Rather, he quietly carried a cross and this prayer card in his wallet at all times:
The Cross In My Pocket
I carry a cross in my pocket
A simple reminder to me
Of the fact that I am a Christian
No matter where I may be.
This little cross is not magic
Nor is it a good luck charm
It isn’t meant to protect me
From every physical harm.
It’s not for identification
For all the world to see
It’s simply an understanding
Between my Savior and me.
When I put my hand in my pocket
To bring out a coin or key
The cross is there to remind me
Of the price He paid for me.
It reminds me, too, to be thankful
For my blessings day by day
And to strive to serve Him better
In all that I do and say.
It’s also a daily reminder
Of the peace and comfort I share
With all who know my Master
And give themselves to His care.
So I carry a cross in my pocket
Reminding no one but me
That Jesus Christ is Lord of my life
If only I’ll let Him be.
In addition to five children, Al is survived by nine grandchildren — Natalie Taylor (husband Sean Taylor), Erica Sanderfoot, Matthew Sanderfoot, Theresa Stevens (husband Jonathan Stevens), Carl Sanderfoot (wife Nikki Sanderfoot), Olivia Sanderfoot, Ivy Sanderfoot, Dale Yerges, and Jonathan Yerges — and four great-grandchildren — Thomas Sanderfoot-Maloney, Justin Taylor, Anna Stevens, Julia Stevens, Elizabeth Sanderfoot, and Jacob Sanderfoot.
Al was preceded in death by his wife, two sons, sister and one brother, as well as grandson Timothy Sanderfoot (1974), who died at birth.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m., Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, at Most Precious Blood Catholic Church in New London, WI, with Fr. Arul Joseph I. officiating. Visitation will be held at from 10-11 a.m. before the service, also at Most Precious Blood Catholic Church. Burial will be in the parish cemetery. Military Graveside Rites will be held.
In lieu of flowers, please donate to the American Lung Association or a charity of your choice.
The Cline & Hanson Funeral Home in New London is serving the family. www.clinehansonfuneralhome.com