Distinguished Alumnus
Class of 2014
Phillip Dean Sanders
(June 9, 1938 - February 15, 2019)

AHS Class of 1956

L-R: Dean Sanders, Shirley McCann Sanders, Terry Sanders (son)

Dean was born June 9, 1938, to parents Victor and Dorothy Louise Wright Sanders. His brother Duane (1955) and sister Joan (1957) were also AHS graduates. He was a student athlete at AHS and a class officer, on the Torch staff, Student Council, class plays, Camera Club and school newspaper. He played four years of football, basketball and track. He advanced to the state track meet in the hurdles, was a standout on Lou Baker’s undefeated football teams of 1954 and 1955 and was named All-Conference. Dean scored one of the most famous touchdowns in AHS history with a 91-yard kickoff return in the “mud bowl” game of 1955 when the Purple Riders beat undefeated Sullivan 7-6.

Dean attended Millikin University on an athletic scholarship in football and track. He lettered in track his freshman year at Millikin and then transferred to Eastern Illinois University, majoring in biological sciences and graduating in 1960 with high honors. On July 4, 1958, while attending Eastern, he married Shirley McCann, who was a 1954 AHS graduate. They recently celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary. He later earned his master’s degree from EIU in 1965.

Dean’s first job was as JH science teacher in Atwood, where he also coached football and basketball. After two years he returned home to become a teacher and coach in Arcola. He assisted in football and was the JH boys’ basketball coach. After two very successful years, he was named head varsity boys’ basketball coach. For the next three years the Purple Riders won over 77% of their games, won regional titles in 1966 (vs. Mattoon) and 1968 (vs. Tuscola) and won two Okaw conference and tournament titles. In 1967, they won 23 games and in 1968 the Riders won 25 games.

In the summer of 1968 Dean accepted the head coaching position at Barrington High School and quickly turned a losing program into a winner. After two years, he accepted a principal’s position at Barrington. He was selected for a sabbatical leave to pursue his Ph.D. degree at Northwestern. With the commitment of perseverance from his wife, Dean was able to achieve his lifelong goal - Dr. Dean Sanders. He remained at Barrington two more years before being named the Deputy Superintendent of Schools in Benton Harbor, Michigan. In less than a year he was promoted to the Superintendent of Schools for Benton Harbor.

In 1977, Dean and Shirley made another career decision that would impact their lives forever. He decided to leave education and find a business where Shirley and he could work together. Dean found a small beer distribution business and through the efforts of Dean, Shirley and son Terry, they made the purchase. The original business sold 175,000 cases of Anheuser Busch and Stroh’s products. The Sanders family grew this business to sales over 1 million cases each year and nearly 200 brands. At the time of their retirement in 2007, they controlled over 80% of the beer sold in southwestern Michigan.

Dean has served as chairman of the Lake Michigan College Board of Trustees and president of the Michigan Community College Association, which included all twenty-nine community colleges in Michigan. He is a former president of the Blossomtime Grand Floral Celebration of St. Joseph, MI, and also served as Benton Harbor-St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce Ambassador.

Dean is quick to credit those who made his career achievements possible in education, coaching and business. He says Tom Monahan, Sr., Otto Cuppy and Sam Blackwell encouraged him to get an education. Other strong influences were Dr. and Mrs. J. V. Fishel and Mr. and Mrs. John B. King. His mentors at AHS were Dr. Joe Lynch, Dr. Leon Sitter and the only head coach he had in high school, Lou Baker. His pastor, Owen Stewart, of the Arcola First Baptist Church, left a lasting, positive impression on Dean. Dean says his brother Duane, his classmate Jack Fishel and his father Vic were his control agents who helped him control his emotions and keep his goals in focus. Finally, Dean says his son Terry has been his go-to guy, good friend and business partner. Dean was always a team and goal oriented individual, which may account for the tremendous business success created by the team of Shirley, Terry and Dean Sanders.

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Last Revision November 11, 2017