By May 31, 2017 Read More →

InterView – John Sanders – 2017 Legend of the Cruise

By Chris Murphy

John Sanders
2017 American Graffiti Car Show Parade Grand Marshall and Legend of the Cruise

The spirit of American Graffiti in Modesto would not be alive today without John Sanders. John was part of Modesto’s beginning car culture in the 1950’s. Not only that, he has worked hard to continue the legacy of a true love of classic cars and the American Graffiti spirit that is pure. I am one of John Sanders’ biggest fans, and the work that he and his ultra effervescent wife, Mary Ann do to support our non-profits, youth programs, cycling and car events are a model that we can all learn from. John is all car guy from his first car, a ’37 Chevy to the exotic Aston Martin. Most important, he is part of this community and gives to it all of the time. Along with his wife, MaryAnn, they have the spirit of Modesto. When people say better half, this is really true in this case as Mary Ann is a legend in local education and even has a school named after her. And that educational background is what connected her to John. The Sanders are proud parents and grandparents. Their daughter Kristi lives in Corona del Mar and son Jason lives in Campbell. So let’s get to know John Sanders a bit more.

ModestoView: How did you meet Mary Ann?
John Sanders: I was working in my family’s appliance store at 1231 McHenry in 1965 and Mary Ann walked in to talk to my mom. At the time, it was difficult to get young people to stay in Modesto and the Modesto City Schools were actively trying to recruit and keep teachers. My mom was active in the local churches and Mary Ann had organized a Modesto Singles club to get young people together as a group so they would gain interest in Modesto and stay. Mary Ann came in to share that information with Mom, and we met. I was working so I gave her my business card. That weekend we had our first date of beer and pizza and we cancelled our other dates we had that weekend and went to a sports car race at Laguna Seca. The rest is history

MV: What first got you interested in cars?
JS: I built a push car when I was about 10. It had 2 x 4s for axles, springs I got from Helm Chevrolet, and ropes to steer it. I felt the need for speed and took it to my uncle’s house in Sonora and went to a big hill. I quickly learned that I needed brakes and I couldn’t stop and crashed into a fence. I finally got my first real car as a gift from a lady who used to baby sit me. It was a 1937 Chevy “Business Coupe”. I would drag 10th all the time.

MV: So what’s your high school alma mater?
JS: I am Downey High, class of 1954. We were the first graduating class from this new school. We had our freshman year at Modesto High and moved when Downey opened. Modesto was growing quickly then. Our family lived on a farm at College and Roseburg, where I was born. That was the edge of town. My parents first appliance store was at 910 I St. just off of Skid Row (9th St) until it later moved to McHenry as Modesto grew. I started working there at age 14. After high school, I attended MJC for 2 years and then went to University of Oregon and graduated in 1958. This is when I really got the car bug.

MV: When do you realize you were a car guy?
JS: I loved engines and every time I looked at the motor in my parents 1934 Dodge with a rumble seat, the motor was just silver and boring. Motors were supposed to look cool, so I opened the hood up one day, and I painted the engine. It looked cool. I was probably about 5th grade. When my dad started it, the paint got hot and caught on fire. This was my first effort a suping up a car and it failed. But I was hooked. I sold the ’37 Chevy for $250 and I was able to buy a ’49 Cadillac for $500. Later I would start to discover the European cars and in 1958 bought a 1955 Austin Healey. I really got the sports car bug and then in 1960, I was able to buy a new Austin Healey.

MV: When did you get married?
JS: Mary Ann and I were married in 1966. We drove our Aston Martin DB4 to Portland for our honeymoon. It was a great road trip. I am currently working on restoring the Aston.

MV: So how did the car show that we have today come to be?
JS: I was a sports car nut and part of the Sports Car Club of America. One of the important things I did was join the North Kiwanis Club in 1972. I became friends with Chuck Billington and the other guys that had the sports cars and race cars. Chuck was also a member of the same Kiwanis Club. We had a car show that was a Concoure ‘D Elegance where all the cars were in mint condition. Our Kiwanis Club sponsored that show from 1980-1989, and over the years, we wanted to do more of the hot rods and cars which were all fixed up for speed and show. That was a no no for the SCAA. Then we were in the middle of the huge Graffiti Night celebrations and it all ended in 1994. In 1998, a group of us, Gary Vukich, Don Wood, Chuck Billington, Jack McCoy, Al Barr, and I went to then Mayor Dick Lang and asked if we could do a street rod show to try to bring it all back and get our car culture going again. Our plan was to do it at MJC Campus and they supported it. We decided to call it the American Graffiti Car Show. The city was nervous about using the world “Graffiti” but they finally relented. So with a huge police presence in 1999, the first show went off without a hitch at MJC East Campus. It has grown each year since. We have permission from Universal to use the trademark “American Graffiti” and we have grown this show carefully and respectfully. The North Modesto Kiwanis have really built a great event that raises a lot of money for nonprofits in our community.

MV: So this lead to the return of the downtown cruise and so many more events?
JS: Yes, we wanted to do the Cruise Parade in downtown Modesto. They wouldn’t let us do it on a Friday night so we did the first one on a Saturday morning. Now it is finally on a Friday night and extends all the way to Orangeburg from downtown. It is a big part of the summer with cars coming from all over the USA and many of them come so they can be in the Cruise Parade.

MV: What do we need to do to make the American Graffiti experience better?
JS: We need to make sure the next generation feels included in this. We have struggled to get next generation into the car shows. There are lots of car enthusiasts but they are into so many different things. We are losing the Model A generation. We all grew up with the hot V8s, but the current hot cars are Nissans and Subarus, etc. So for the 2nd year, we are offering a “Specialty class” in the car show to get the younger drivers involved and part of the car culture. The cruise parade is still 1979 and earlier to celebrate the age of the cruise.

MV: Now that you have passed the torch of the North Modesto Kiwanis Car Show over to Brent Burnside, describe your perfect day:
JS: My perfect day was Draggin’ 10th. We lived in the best time. Being out in your car was so much better than sitting around watching TV. The cool thing about cruising is that if someone had a car, you knew you would see them there. The best part being “retired” is not having the pressure of being in business, but I am just as busy now, but it is on my own timeframe. So I guess nowadays, my perfect day would be taking the dogs to the coffee shop and relax reading the newspaper, and then come home to work on restoring my Aston. Many days, Mary Ann and I will meet up for lunch. We like to support organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs and others. Modesto is such a different place than when I was living on a farm on College and Roseburg. There were only about 30,000 people here during high school but I love this town and being a part of it. It has been a great place to grow up in.

MV: Our signature question. Beatles or Stones?
JS: Beatles. (Classic answer to a classic question)



Posted in: community, Graffiti, news

About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.