Wednesday, January 28, 2015

To See Jakie Sandefer's Legacy Just Look Around

My friend Jakie Sandefer died last night.

It's an odd quirk of Oklahoma University history that the man who befriended and  helped hundreds of African-American student athletes from the 1955 to 2015 was a white Texan named Jefferson Davis Sandefer III. "Jakie," as he was called, befriended and roomed with Prentice Gautt, the first African-American to cross the color barrier and play football for the University of Oklahoma.  When Prentice Gautt, Ph.D. later was admitted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, it was Jakie whom Dr. Gautt asked to introduce him. When the University of Oklahoma developed its premier student athlete academic advisement facility - and named it the Prentice Gautt Academic Center - it was Jakie who led the way in private donations. Since the heady national championship days of the 1950's when Jakie and Prentice played both offense and defense for the University of Oklahoma, Jakie's benevolent and charitable spirit has been replicated hundreds of times on behalf of Oklahoma's African-American student athletes. He's found jobs for former players, provided funding for postgraduate degrees to those desirous but financially unable, and has opened his personal homes to those in need. Jakie bore no resemblance to the former President of the Confederacy in either internal prejudice or outward behavior.

Jakie Sandefer loved people.

Barry Switzer can recount the number of all-American players who came to play football for Oklahoma University because of Jakie's influence. Players like, Billy Simms, Marcus Dupree, Victor Hicks, Darrell Hunt, Kenny King, George Cumby, Joe Washington just to name a few. I can recount dozens more lesser known names who were helped by Jakie after they graduated from Oklahoma. Football was Jakie's passion; but life was Jakie's priority. He'd rather an Oklahoma football player be known for what he accomplished after graduation than on the gridiron.

I am a pastor and avocational historian. Jakie was an oil man. Jakie and I met at an Oklahoma football game many years ago (where else) and we soon discovered we had a few things in common. One of my ancestors, Rufus Burleson, President of Baylor, was a close friend of Jakie's grandfather, Dr. Jefferson Davis Sandefer, Sr., President of Hardin-Simmons University.  Jakie was fascinated that I knew a great deal about his ancestors and their influence in Texas education. Our friendship grew, and I soon began to understand the influence that both Jakie and his son Jeff were having on the national level in terms of  higher education. Jeff Sandever eventually came to the church I pastor and delivered a Sunday message and then spoke at a luncheon to some of our graduating seniors, giving a speech these kids still vividly remember.

There are a number of new friendships Rachelle and I have developed because of Jakie and his wife Melissa. People like Clendon and Soni Thomas, the Marshes, the Youngs,  and others. When Rachelle was working on her doctorate, it would be Norman Lamb and I who would go to Jakie's house before and after Oklahoma games. Norman and I both thought the conversations we had with people who gathered at Jakie's place before and after the games were absolutely riveting.

But the most meaningful times I had at Jakie's were those occasions when newer graduates of Oklahoma, former football players who didn't make it in the NFL, would tell me what Jakie was doing to help them get started in life. The man who befriended Prentice Gautt in the fall of 1956 didn't change over the last sixty years. Others will tell in the coming days of Jakie's legacy in the oil and gas fields of Texas, some will recount Jakie's contributions to the University of Oklahoma, while a few may choose to focus on Jakie's foibles. I will give a historical anecdote to illustrate what I perceive to be Jakie's greatest legacy.

When Jakie's grandfather died, it was determined that Dr. Jefferson Davis Sandefer Sr. would be buried on the campus of Hardin-Simmons University. When the good people of Abilene decided to plant a small tombstone where Dr. Sandefer was buried, they chose to inscribe these words on it:

"If you would see his monument, look around."

Like grandfather, like grandson.

If you wish to see the legacy of J.D. "Jakie" Sandefer just look around. Look around at the people who will be at his service. Many who are now in the industries of oil, finance, education, business, and manufacturing are there because of the direct influence of Jefferson Davis Sandefer III.

Well done, Jakie. We'll miss you.


Anonymous said...

Greetings from the campus of Hardin-Simmons University. Thanks for mentioning us.

Muff Potter said...

Excellent post Wade! I love these kinds of human interest stories that transcend all bounds of race, color, and creed. Just good men listening to what Lincoln called The better angels of our nature and doing the right thing.