Ronald Lee Sands, who as a youth growing up in Altamont had a passion for adventure and making model planes, graduated from the Air Force Academy and went on to help design the F-4 Phantom, the primary fighter jet used in the Vietnam War.
He died on July 12, 2023. He was 82. A celebration of his life will be held on Oct. 7 at the Altamont Reformed Church.
“Ron was the first of eight children of George Sands Jr. and Sidney Bier, born on Oct. 18, 1940 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania,” wrote his brother Tom Sands in a tribute. “Our parents were a young successful couple who moved to Altamont post-World War II for new opportunities now available with General Electric’s recently formed nuclear division in the area.
“Sidney and George chose to live in Altamont for its quiet village atmosphere reflecting their own positive experiences of growing up in a village that was in a supportive, caring community.
“Altamont then offered two prosperous car dealerships, Chrysler and Chevrolet (a must-see for the distinctive new models in the ’50s) but many in the village never owned their own transportation, and were mostly within walking distance for all their needs from the grocery stores, the hardware store, the clothing store, the pharmacy, the bank, and the post office. The library and the three active churches were not far from the village green.
“Ron enrolled in fourth grade at the high school, now the site of the Altamont Elementary, then housing fourth to12th grades. Kindergarten through third grade classes were located in churches or the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post awaiting elementary-school completion. Snowy mornings, Ron could slide from upper Helderberg during big storms with limited plowing and few cars to Sand Street with crunching sparkling snow.
“On some days, the only six-seat school bus Chevrolet Suburban would be replaced with Farmer Robinson’s flat sled used for pulling logs.
“Soon things would be changing, as Baby Boomers and an expanding community demanded a new Altamont Elementary and a new state-of-the-0art combined middle and high school in the Guilderland Central High School.
“Ron was a promising student at GCHS, always loved reading, and was also a frequent visitor to the local library, showing the way for his seven brothers and sisters to become lifelong learners. He was fortunate then to have talented teachers and instructors in science, math, and history, which dominated the postwar curriculum.
“In these courses, Ron was at the top of his class. His achievement was reflected later in his high scores on his state Regents’ exams.
“In high school, Ron became a trumpeter in the band, a half-miler in track, and an active member of Key Club. He became a Senior Life Boy Scout leader in the Altamont troop known for all 40 members attending the Vermont wilderness camp in the Green Mountains.
“As a junior, the foreign-exchange student program selected him to live with a German family for the summer. This was a first taste of the wider world for the boy from Altamont.
“Ron had a fascination with flying and crafted a large collection of authentic models. Every type: large model kits, rubber-band propelled models, gas-driven, and radio-controlled. Some weren’t so easy to control, when their flight paths sent them unexpectedly into trees, or far fields, but, fortunately, he also knew how to put the wreckage back together.
“A great friend, Bobby T., joined with Ron to create their masterpiece resting in Bobby’s basement on two pieces of plywood. They actually created a town with trains that ran through handmade and painted tunnels and bridges and a railyard.
“Included were mechanical rail cars that loaded and unloaded cattle, coal, barrels and logs. All the whistles, lights and gates, and blinking lights with engine noise, smoke, and horns were quite fascinating and amazing for two boys to have constructed themselves. It was quite an intricate electrical maze.
“Ron loved to read adventure tales, and also sharing that spirit of adventure with his friends and siblings in the caves at High Point, with his encouraging words to both thrillseekers and hesitant followers.
“I remember well the fear that my candle would go out or my flashlight would fail to show the unexpected fellow inhabitants of the cave as I was crawling backwards to daylight. The second cave challenge was down Chimney Hole, well known to the Altamont Rescue Squad.
“Financial scarcity at home in the later ’40s required Ron to earn his own way around our house, but we were fortunate, as Altamont offered many job options for an ambitious youth. Ron had a paper route, passed down to many of us, and knew where the best-paying snow-shoveling jobs were.
“Later, Ron secured a job setting bowling pins from 7 to 11 p.m. multiple days a week, which paid four times minimum wage. Wow! This was a great job left by Ron to us as we learned from Ron what it meant to work hard and be self-sufficient.
“He, like the rest of us, was the recipient of undeserved financial support from individuals in the village. That generosity, sometimes from those who could least afford it, was a way of enriching our lives and a lesson in unselfish giving.
“Ron set his sights on the newly-opened Air Force Academy after high school graduation. His application was wait-listed so he applied to his father’s alma mater, Brown University, and was accepted for the fall term. The academy remained his goal, however, and he enlisted in the regular Air Force after his first semester at Brown and was accepted to the academy that fall.
“His service time allowed him to accept a second lieutenant’s commission in the Air Force or pursue his desire for employment as a military fighter plane designer.
“After graduating from the academy, he acquired two master’s degrees in aeronautical design and aeronautics. He and his wife, Judy Stander, a delight and family favorite, raised their two daughters, Cindy and Susie, in the war period of Vietnam as Ron worked for MacDonald Douglas Aviation in St.Louis, putting in long hours to advance fighter plane effectiveness.
“The F-4 Phantom, the primary fighter jet in the war, set a goal to increase the flight mobility of a Piper Cub. His team then followed that program with designs for the Sky Hawk, the next generation of fighters to answer the Russian MIG 15-21 fighters.
“General Dynamics later recruited Ron to Texas as their person for delivery of the latest fighter planes to Israel. His experience and ability to work technically and politically to deliver General Dynamics fighters was a good fit for Ron, and a job he really loved.
“A search for independence in mid-life led Ron to earn a law degree from Southern Methodist University and form a private practice in Workers’ Compensation law. Many of his clients couldn’t afford legal assistance, so he often represented these pro bono clients, while living in Ft. Worth, closer to the ranch country he came to love.
“Like many independent-minded transplants to ‘cattle country,’ he lived his dream by purchasing a ‘spread’ near Chico, Texas, complete with coyotes and rattlesnakes, and a few head of cattle. He lived there very happily for many years with his dogs, his western art collection, his cigar-store Indian chief, his life-sized Lady Liberty, his library of history books, and near friends for companionship.
“Ron rarely missed major family events whether it was holidays, special birthdays, or weddings — not easy with seven siblings and two daughters’ families as well as four grandchildren, one in Portland, Oregon and the other in Atlanta, Georgia. He loved keeping in touch with many family and friends with a joke or an interesting article or a birthday greeting.
“With his limited mobility and emerging health issues, his daughters decided he needed more assistance, so their whole families moved him to Atlanta where his daughter Cindy and her husband, Tim, enjoyed his company while they kept an eye on him, with unbounded patience and affection. His son-in-law Tim treated him like the dad he lost as a young teenager.
“Ron loved his family, his country, our military, the Dallas Cowboys, western art and music, close friends, and his God. We love you Ron. Rest in peace.”
Ronald Lee Sands is survived by his daughter Susan Anderson and her husband, David, of Portland, Oregon, and grandsons Reid and Reagan; by his daughter Cindy Creeden and her husband, Tim Creedon, of Atlanta, Georgia, and granddaughters Kendall and Emily.
Rev. Judy Stander, a mother and much loved Methodist pastor of a supportive, caring community, died before him.
He had seven siblings:
— Tom, Eli Lilly retired director, living in Indianapolis, Indiana, and family;
— Dean, a semi-retired dentist, of Placerville, California;
— George, a retired postal local union dead of Altamont, who died before him;
— John, a private client landscape architect of Altamont;
— Sandra, a government attorney in Washington, D.C.;
— Chris, a private client builder in Los Gatos, California; and
— Shelagh, a retired law librarian, fisheries biologist, and an environment advocate in Juno, Alaska.
A celebration and remembrance ceremony will be held at the Altamont Reformed Church at 129 Lincoln Ave. on Saturday, Oct. 7, at 11 a.m.
Memorial contributions may be made to Tunnel and Towers Foundation at T2T.org.
The annual gathering for local Guilderland High School graduates is being held at the Altamont VFW Post at 11 Mill St. in the village on Friday, Oct. 6, at 5 p.m. You are welcome.