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New resident embodies Abe Lincoln’s values

KIMBERLY NICOLETTI
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Mark Fox
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Honesty.

Integrity.

Loyalty.

A lifetime of learning.

These are the values Keystone resident Bill Sanders radiates when he dresses up as Abe Lincoln and presents nationwide, from corporate settings to festivals, schools, trade shows and seminars.

Sanders’ first inspiration to represent Lincoln began in his early 20s when he moved from his hometown in Missouri to launch his career in Los Angeles as an investment manager for large pension plans. As a single lad, he enjoyed visiting Disneyland frequently and took particular interest in a robotic depiction of Lincoln near the entrance, which featured the president’s rousing speech.

“I thought, ‘Boy, he’s got some real message. If I ever have a chance to share the values and leadership of (Lincoln), I want to,'” Sanders said. “He’s a model for achieving what you want in life by pulling yourself up by your boot straps.”

So 10 years ago, Sanders became one of the many people nationwide who presents the wisdom of our 16th president. In schools, he relates Lincoln’s history of leaving his family farm, only to arrive in the nearest city friendless, penniless and uneducated. Lincoln proceeded to educate himself; first he worked as the postmaster, which allowed him to read newspapers, then he studied geometry and law by reading books.

“What I want the kids to hear is Lincoln, with that background, was able to achieve what he wanted in life. And how did he get there? Through those four values (honesty, integrity, loyalty and education),” Sanders said. “In America, you have freedom to become anything you want to be. Whether they take advantage of it or not, the opportunity (is there).”

Sanders doesn’t approach his Lincoln presentations lightly. He spent years as a docent at The Lincoln Museum, where he thoroughly researched the man. He also has acted as vice president of Lincoln National Corporation for more than 20 years, is the founder of The Lincoln Organization and is a member of the Association of Lincoln Presenters. His costume replicates LIncoln’s, down to the nutshell buttons and a beaver felt hat that measures Lincoln’s hat’s exact dimensions.

Sanders crafts his talks to fit his audiences; he doesn’t hand down pat speeches. For example, he works with problems businesses face, asking himself, “How would Lincoln handle it?” The issues always boil down to decision making, communication and working with people, he said, and Lincoln’s four values seem to fit the bill. During presentations, he switches from speaking as himself about Lincoln to speaking as Lincoln, which audiences often find compelling.

So what does Sanders think about the current challenges we face as a nation – and what would Lincoln have to say?

Sanders says, “The world is pretty messed up in many respects. Financially, economically, socially, there are lots of crises, lots of things going wrong – mistrust of politicians and a lot of questions (such as) ‘Are we going in the right direction as a country.’

“Lincoln would say, ‘Wait a minute. Times are difficult, but we will persevere. We’ve come through a lot, and there’s a lot of good in this country.’ Lincoln always went back to the Declaration of Independence … freedom and entrepreneurship of individuals.”

Sanders pointed out how, though Lincoln wanted to become president, he was one of the few politicians that cared deeply about Americans, so he didn’t put himself first.

“In Lincoln’s day, the politicians then were still self-serving, so we might look at today and think all politicians care about is elections and not about Americans, but back in Lincoln’s day, we still persevered and prospered,” he said, emphasizing how important it is to protect the systems – such as freedom, government checks and balances, personal innovation and no nationalization of industry – that allowed Lincoln, and all Americans today, to strive to achieve our dreams.

Overall, thinking from Lincoln’s perspective gives Sanders hope.

“If we say the world’s in difficult spots today, if you look at the world in Lincoln’s day, it gives you hope that we’ll pull through,” he said, adding that July 1-3, 1863, the Confederates fought the Union soldiers during the Battle of Gettysburg, and “those guys had big problems, so let’s put our problems in perspective.”

It was Lincoln’s values, with which Sanders always resonated, that helped him and his ex-wife co-parent so effectively after their divorce that judges and marriage counselors used their story as an example. Sanders channeled his sense of loyalty to his daughter by keeping her well-being first, and therefore communicating well with his ex-wife, and never placing their daughter in the middle of controversy.

Lincoln’s values also have shown up through Sanders’ 30 years of participation in Rotary Club. He acted as president and assistant governor of Rotary and visited plenty of clubs nationwide. He says Summit County is one of the best in the country, especially in regards to how it serves the community.

And, speaking of praises for Summit County, Sanders is full of them. After spending about a year checking out all of the Colorado ski resorts, he chose to move from Indiana to Keystone in January.

“Nothing could compare to Summit County,” he said. “The skiing, biking, hiking, kayaking, golf, fishing – it’s all world-class, and it’s all right here. And since I’ve moved, I’ve discovered a lot of good dancing (both) square dancing and country. But the real draw is the friendliness and the inclusiveness of the community. Everybody here is welcoming. There aren’t barriers and exclusive cliques.

“I think Summit County is the best-kept secret on earth.”

And, he loves that almost everyone he meets “volunteers for something.” His volunteerism, as well as his Lincoln presentations, add purpose to his life.

“A purposeful life is … such an important ingredient,” he said.


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