Stanley “Stan” J. Sanders was known throughout the Fresno area for excelling in two very different arenas: business and rodeo. He took over his father’s car dealership while still a teenager, expanding it in the ’60s and ’70s while pioneering the idea of an auto brokerage. During that period of rapid professional growth, he also spent decades capturing roping titles at West Coast rodeos.
Those who knew and loved him best say his love of family and his uncompromising morals were undercurrents to everything he did.
“He always did the right thing,” daughter Stacy Peters said. “And he had two sides. He was a smart, shrewd, hard-working businessman, but he could also be so sweet and generous – a real study in contrasts.”
Mr. Sanders died on Dec. 23. He was 73.
Peters and Mr. Sanders’ three other children, sons Michael and Jason and daughter Fahmie Geron, gathered Wednesday to discuss their dad’s legacy on the eve of his Friday memorial. They remembered being dragged by motor home to rodeos and coloring in his office while he closed million-dollar deals. Those early years taught them lessons about being independent, working hard and being successful.
Mr. Sanders began his career at 14 by detailing cars for his father, J.H. Sanders, at his Ford dealership. By 16, he was driving cars to Clovis High School and selling them on the spot to his classmates. By 19, he had taken over the dealership. Over the next few decades, he would expand at locations in downtown Fresno and Clovis to include a Chrysler dealership and a Honda motorcycle shop. His wife, Jackie, worked at the dealership before their marriage 43 years ago.
Geron, who ran the family business from 1990 to 2000, said her father essentially created the first auto brokerage in town by opening a leasing office that could handle deals for all three automakers. Her father also dabbled in real estate – all the while explaining in meticulous detail to his four children the what and why of each business transaction. The showroom even had notches on the wall indicating the growing heights of all four.
“He told me you need to learn to take care of yourself – how to make money on your own,” Peters said. “And if you find a man and get married, that’s great, but you have to be independent. It was the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.”
To that end, Mr. Sanders made the heirs of his auto empire buy their own cars.
“He wouldn’t even finance me,” eldest son Michael said with a laugh.
“I used to iron his shirts for a quarter apiece,” Peters added. “I mean, we didn’t want for anything. He babied us, but we just had to work for things.”
“He gave you the means to earn what you wanted,” Michael Sanders said.
His children described Mr. Sanders as a fun man with a dry, sarcastic wit that other people often didn’t know how to take.
One particular source of dark humor was the family’s annual roundups, to which they would occasionally invite “city slickers” to help rope, brand and castrate cattle. Geron’s husband, Dror, made the mistake of wearing nice jeans and sparkling new cowboy boots to his first roundup. They were covered in blood, mud and – other things – by the end of the day.
Mr. Sanders’ rodeo life began while he was in grade school. He was involved in Future Farmers of America, the Fresno County Junior Horse Owners Association and the Sunnyside Junior Riding Club. From his teen years until the day he died, he was a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association. He also helped found the American Team Roping Association.
His roping career highlights included winning the team roping event at his hometown Clovis Rodeo and a PRCA year-end circuit championship that same year, as well as winning his division in both 2013 and 2014.
Mr. Sanders’ youngest child, Jason, followed in his father’s footsteps. He competed alongside him in rodeos and now owns the dealership.
Jason Sanders remembers his father wearing three hats – boss, father and best friend – well. His father showed no favoritism on the job. He never yelled while playing any of the three roles. And despite his busy life, Mr. Sanders always made time for his children.
“I played sports – badly – in grade school,” Jason Sanders said. “And he never stood me up. He never once missed a game. He’d come watch, and then he’d go right back to work.”
Stanley J. Sanders
Born: April 3, 1943
Died: Dec. 23, 2016
Occupation: Retired business owner
Survivors: Wife Jackie, sons Michael and Jason, daughters Fahmie and Stacy, seven grandchildren
Services: Friday 10 a.m. at St. Agnes Catholic Church, 111 W. Birch Ave., Pinedale. Burial to follow at Belmont Memorial Park. The family asks that any memorial donations go to the Abundant Life Ranch in Sanger.