Winning the Juneau Chamber of Commerce's 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award is no small feat, but if you ask REACH founder Lenore "Lee" Sandor, 83, she'll likely give you a modest reply about why she won.
"I don't feel I've done that much," Sandor said humbly. "I don't even know how my name happened to be submitted to the chamber."
Sandor, a Cleveland native, first moved to Juneau in 1951, when Alaska was still a territory. She married her husband, John, in 1956, and due to his job as a Forest Service ranger, they moved several times before finally settling back in Juneau in 1976.
At that time, Sandor's oldest daughter, Mary - a special-needs adult who recently appeared in "The Little Red Riding Hood" play by REACH's acting class - was living with her aunt in Tacoma, Wash. Although Mary was working for Goodwill, the arrangement didn't work out, and eventually the Sandors brought Mary back to Juneau.
"But there really wasn't anything (for special-needs adults here at the time)," Sandor said. "Most of these parents had children who were over school-age. And in Juneau, they will keep you in the school system until you're 21. Well, our kids were over 21, so we had to provide some sort of organization for them."
But even before REACH, Sandor met with a chapter of the Association for Retarded Children, which eventually changed its name to the National Association for Retarded Citizens.
"This group had been meeting, and we had belonged to it in Milwaukee (and Maryland)," Sandor said. "As time progressed, we decided as a group that we should form an organization just for these young people."
This founding group consisted of Joan and Larry Carroll, Lorene and Jerry Godkin, Pat and Karl Lane, Margaret and James Martin, Elsie and Orvald Osborne, Evelyn and Bob Scott, John and Ann Simons and the Sandors - who all were recently recognized at REACH's 30th anniversary.
"Lee was determined to have an agency where people could receive services from birth and throughout life, that treated people with the dignity and respect they deserved," said Kate Wolfe, the family resource director for REACH. "This led to the incorporation of REACH, on April 25, 1978, which included uniting Child Inc. and St. Jude's Children Center into one agency."
Also that year, the city gave REACH a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant of $30,000 to purchase a home on 12th Street for its organization. Prior to that, REACH members were meeting in the Douglas Methodist Church.
"(The church) had a good kitchen," she said. "It was across the street from Thibodeau's, and the bus stopped right close by. So they could learn how to ride the bus, they could go shopping for lunch, and they'd come back to the church and prepare their lunch in the kitchen. ... It was an ideal location."
But, according to Sandor, a state of Alaska evaluator complained that the group was "nothing but a church basement operation."
"That made the man who was the director at the time, Mark VanRyan, so angry, he moved us out of there and found this house on 12th Street," Sandor said.
Before VanRyan, Sandor worked closely with the former director of Health and Social Services, Dr. Robert Gregavich, to identify the needs and funding for people with disabilities. After VanRyan, she worked with REACH director Jerry Hekkel, who stayed from 1981 to 1986.
"(Jerry) was terrific," Sandor said. "He was just compassionate, but with a lot of insight. He just was perfect."
Finally, after 11 years of holding nearly all the offices on the REACH Board, Sandor retired in 1989.
"Going back, it's interesting to realize we've only been a state since 1959," Sandor reflected. "We haven't been a state very long; so you've got to realize, when you create an organization that's going to provide services, no matter what kind of services, there's a lot of steps to follow. You've got to hire people to put this program together, what is the agency going to do and so forth."
And because of Sandor's initial determination, REACH has grown tremendously through the past 30 years. It now has 400 clients, a number of whom are employed part or full-time, and 200 staff, some of whom are clients.
Even Mary works a couple of days a week, picking up time sheets for REACH.
"Bless her heart, she's like a little mailman," Sandor said of her daughter. "She goes no matter what the weather is. She's always ready to go."
Many clients also live in REACH Assisted Living Homes.
"It's just fantastic. Unbelievable, you know," Sandor said of how REACH has grown. "And that's wonderful because they now say they provide services even in the outlying communities and Juneau. ... Just think, when it was just starting. Unbelievable and wonderful."
So it's no wonder why Mayor Bruce Botelho declared Nov. 7, 1988, as Mrs. Lee Sandor Appreciation Day.
"Lee continues to be an integral part of our agency and on-going vision," Wolfe said.
Sandor's love for Juneau is shown in her life's work as a community volunteer and organizer.
"We love Juneau," Sandor said. "I told my husband, don't you dare take me South if I'm dying. I want to die here. It's a wonderful place, and I'm glad I came."
• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or email@example.com.
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