It was a perfect fall morning when Dennis LaMont Sanderson, age 70, passed to the other side to join family and friends on the bank of some heavenly stream. After experiencing a sudden heart attack, he laid down in tall grass on the bank of Salt River and died peacefully on September 20, 2018 - with his fly rod still in hand and vest filled with hand-tied leaders and flies.
Dennis was born on January 27, 1948 in Freedom, Wyoming, to Orion LaMont “Dick” and Louie Heap Sanderson. Growing up on the family farm, Dennis learned to work smart, fish, trap, and hunt. He also spent many hours playing baseball with his siblings and other members of the Freedom community. Dennis felt that he was raised in the best place, during the best time in human history. Later on in life, he lamented that most of the “fun” and “mischievous” activities that he participated in as a youngster had become felonies in the eyes of the modern legal system.
He graduated from Star Valley High School in Afton, Wyoming, Class of 1966. He was a good-enough student, but did not live up to his potential. In fact, his high school counselor advised him not to apply for college because it would be a “waste of his time and money” and he would only become a janitor. After graduation, Dennis ignored the counselor’s advice and attended Utah State University in Logan, Utah. He studied history and political science, and hoped to teach history and government in Star Valley. However, his student teaching experiences suggested he would be better off looking for a different career.
Dennis met and dated Koral Ann Smith during high school and his freshman year at USU. He proposed to her in the most romantic way. While driving to Koral’s high school graduation ceremony, he pointed toward the car’s glove compartment and said, “There’s something in there for you.” They were married on Friday, September 13, 1968 in the Logan, Utah LDS Temple. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary one week before his passing.
While at Utah State, Dennis enrolled in the Army ROTC program, and he appeared to be “Saigon bound” in the summer of 1969. His promising military career was cut short when cataracts were discovered in his eyes during the physical, and he was declared not fit for service.
After graduating from college in 1970, Dennis worked as a logger, farmer, hunting guide, and field man for the Star Valley Swiss Cheese Company. In the summer of 1971, Dennis decided to apply to law school and was accepted at the University of Wyoming.
After graduating from law school in 1974, Dennis actually worked as a ditch-digger before opening his own law practice in Afton, Wyoming. He served his community and the people of Lincoln County and Star Valley in many different capacities including Lincoln County Attorney, attorney for the Town of Afton, and a board member for Silver Star Communications. He has a reputation of being tough, but fair and constantly honest in everything he did. In 2001, Dennis was appointed as the District Court Judge for the Third Judicial District, where he served until 2014.
Even though Dennis did not pursue a teaching career, he was a perennial student and constant teacher. He would often say, “Here, let me show you something…” which would be followed by a lesson in fly casting, fly tying, history, philosophy, geology, herbal medicine, or just about anything else interesting or insightful. He had an incredible memory and could teach a lesson or tell a story with fantastic detail. Many fondly recall the way that he could bring history – especially local and family history – to life.
Dennis spent his brief retirement reading, fishing, studying fishing, history, philosophy, medicinal plants, primitive survival skills and most recently he was immersed in the study of the Native American flute. He valued the lost art of “visiting” and frequently took time to stop and visit his friends and family.
Dennis and Koral have six children: James Kendall Sanderson (Sandra Paty), Kellyn Ann Sanderson (Michael “Chip” Sanders), Kristina Rae Kendig (Christopher), Erin Dee Slack (John), Jennifer Louisa Visser (Justin), and Jacob LaMont Sanderson (Violet). They have 20 grandchildren: Fernando Estrada, Stuart, Spencer, and Viggo Sanderson; Emily, Thomas, Allison, and Jillian Kendig; Aubony, Olivia, and Isabella Slack; Peter, Hendrick, Gracey, Oliver, and Eliza Visser; and Callin, Abbygail, Sara, and Lillian Sanderson.
Dennis is preceded in death by his parents and brothers Orion Lloyd and Richard DelMar Sanderson. He is survived by his wife, children, grandchildren, and his four sisters LaDean Clark, Joyce Cherry, Yvonne Card, and Linda Call.
Funeral services were held at the Afton LDS Tabernacle, and burial was at the Freedom Cemetery on September 26, 2018. Donations can be made to the Dennis L. Sanderson Memorial Scholarship fund at the Bank of Star Valley, Attention Rod Jensen, P.O. Box 8007, Afton, WY 83110.