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William's Story

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William Baxter "Sundown" Sanders, 75, passed away in his little stone house in Tahlequah, OK on June 30, 2017 after a prolonged illness.

A self-described redbone hillbilly, Will was born in Arkansas, and spent most of his youth in the Ozarks, although his father's itinerant career meant frequent moves. In later years, Will was stationed in Turkey in the Army; met his wife, Phyllis Sanders, in Omaha, NE; and lived in San Francisco, New York City, and Little Rock, AR, where he and Phyllis raised their daughter, Eileen Makoff. Some 25 years ago, he settled in Tahlequah. Throughout all these moves, his heart remained in the mountains of his childhood.

Will's many careers and adventures could fill a book. He was briefly a teacher, and he served in Army Intelligence in the early 1960s. He lived in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco during the time of the Diggers Movement. In New York City, he worked in the Garment District, played guitar and sang, and participated in a number of the era's protests against the Vietnam War. He also occasionally worked in construction and in factories, and once worked calibrating scales.

Will is most remembered, however, as a writer, his sole career for more than 30 years until his retirement. He is best known for his works of speculative fiction, including The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan and Journey to Fusang, but he also wrote mysteries, suspense thrillers, and history. In addition, he wrote books and magazine articles about bicycle racing, camping, small boats, and other outdoors pursuits. His work earned a number of awards and nominations: He was a repeat finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award, the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Award, and he was a two-time winner of the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. In his final literary effort prior to retirement, Will helped found and served as editor of Helix, an online magazine of speculative fiction, now no longer in existence. Further information about his professional life, including a complete bibliography, can be found on Will's website, http://www.mrbadexample.com/sanders/

Will's outpouring of creativity extended well beyond his literary pursuits. He was a talented musician, playing guitar seriously and many other instruments proficiently, including the harmonica, dulcimer, and concertina (much to the disdain of the family's cat). He played semi-professionally in coffee houses and bars in New York City in the 1960s and remained a passionate musician throughout his life. He was also a talented amateur artist and produced a number of paintings and drawings. He was known for his sense of humor, and he regaled all who knew him with stories and jokes; he could produce lyrics and poetry--frequently ribald--on the spur of the moment. He delighted in making execrable puns and inappropriate jokes in at least six languages.

Will lived a life full of travel and adventure. In addition to his early stint as a hitchhiker and his time spent abroad in the service, he rode bicycles incredible distances (and was a competitive cyclist for a number of years), hiked, climbed mountains, and floated fast rivers in all manner of small boat, almost meeting his end much earlier on more than one of these trips. He rode motorcycles at unreasonable speeds, both around town and all over the United States, Mexico, and Canada. He traveled throughout Europe by bus and train, particularly enjoying his time in France and Scotland. Despite the many thousands of miles he traveled, Will never owned a car.

Will's life was also marked by an endless thirst for knowledge. He was extremely well read, particularly in history, and he had an uncanny knack for remembering everything he read. He could recite large amounts of William Shakespeare from memory, and he would frequently punctuate conversation with bursts of song from Gilbert and Sullivan, sometimes amending the lyrics on the fly to meet his own rhetorical purpose. He never visited a country without first learning at least some of the language. He spoke Russian, Turkish, and Spanish fluently, and he had a passing familiarity with German, Dutch, Italian, French, and Cherokee.

Will never pulled any punches, and he had a penchant for guns and other weapons. Despite his tough exterior, however, he had a number of soft spots, particularly for animals. Until he grew too sick to care for them, he was never without a pet of one kind or another, and more frequently, his home was a menagerie. He took in snakes, turtles, frogs, fish, iguanas, and any number of cats and dogs. Will was also exceptionally kind to homeless people, never failing to stop and give them some kind words and spare change, no matter how dire his own financial situation was.

Will is survived by his wife, Phyllis Sanders, of Tahlequah, OK. He is also survived by his daughter, Eileen Makoff; his son-in-law, Gregory Makoff; and his two granddaughters, Lauren "August" Makoff and Mia "Liz" Makoff, all of whom reside in New York City.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Monday, July 3, at the chapel in the Northeastern Health System Tahlequah Hospital, 1400 E. Downing Street, Tahlequah, OK 74464. Please make donations to your local homeless shelter in lieu of flowers.
Published on  July 3, 2017
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