Preserving the news: Sharon Sanders, librarian extraordinaire at the Southeast Missourian, explains her love for research

Saturday, March 6, 2010
---- Southeast Missourian librarian Sharon Sanders has a command of local history through archived newspapers and photographs (Fred Lynch)

Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the Southeast Missourian newsroom, librarian Sharon Sanders sits calmly in her office, surrounded by the relics of Cape Girardeau's past. She spends her days shuffling through past and present news clippings, a pot of coffee to one side, a radio on her other.

"Sometimes it's troubling to realize how old I am," says Sharon. "Sometimes I don't know if I actually remember something or if I just read about it happening."

A 1979 graduate of Notre Dame Regional High School, Sharon is proud to say that she was born and bred in Southeast Missouri, growing up on Toll Gate Hill. Her first job out of high school was with the Census Bureau, where she did everything from answering the phones to tracking down residents who didn't want to be found. That aspect of the job -- research -- is the same thing she loves about her current job.

"It goes back to the same thing I did with the Census -- finding the elusive fact," says Sharon. "With the Census Bureau, I was finding people. Now, I find a piece of history that helps the newspaper."

When the census office closed, Sharon needed a new job to "pay the rent." She had enjoyed a journalism class in high school, was an editor for Notre Dame's school newspaper and yearbook, and thought she would enjoy a career in journalism.

"I didn't do a whole lot of writing. I did more layout and behind-the-scenes stuff," she says. "I liked the editing process, seeing what goes into making a newspaper and seeing the stories before they make it into the paper."

Sharon began working at the Southeast Missourian in 1980, along with historian Judith Ann Crow. Every morning, Crow marked up each page of the newspaper. Sharon's job was to cut apart the newspapers, make copies of news clips and photos, and file them away in the archives. When Crow retired in 1985, Sharon took on her position. Thirty years later, Sharon has the same responsibilities, but the archiving system is computerized, making her job faster and easier.

"It's easier to find things, and in more variety of ways," she explains. "If you're trying to find a clipping, you have to think how the filer might file them. Now, you can just type in a keyword."

Sharon has also begun using a brand-new resource, Google News. By going to www.news.google.com/archivesearch, Sharon -- and any other history buffs -- can search an online database of newspaper articles, photos and even microfilm items. And search Sharon does -- constantly.

"I file photos and stories so reporters can find them easily," she says. Archiving also makes news items available for curious readers. Many bets and family mysteries have been solved by a call to the Southeast Missourian library where, for a fee, Sharon searches the files for information. She also writes the daily "Out of the Past" piece for the newspaper, compiling the dates of the most interesting historic items..

One of Sharon's all-time favorite news stories is Denver Wright's 1932 "lion hunt" near Commerce, Mo. Wright had bought two retired circus lions and set them free on a Mississippi River island, with plans to return later and hunt them down. His plans were thwarted when a deputy sheriff and other locals sneaked onto the river island and shot the lions before Wright had the chance. Sharon's uncle was part of the hunting group, and she grew up hearing this story around the family's kitchen table. She's fascinated by stories about Patrick Frissell, a Cape Girardeau County native and one of the first Army aviators in the early 1900s. While racing via airplane from one coast to the other in 1919, Frissell crashed into a mountain and died. Other interesting stories -- which still resurface often -- are alleged UFO sightings, the 1979 murder of Debbie Martin and the 1954 murder of schoolteacher Bonnie Huffman.

But regardless of the story at hand, when Sharon finds a long-sought piece of information, it's always a delightful feeling of "Gotcha!" or "Yes!", she says. Few things are more fun than finding a fact that she knows is out there -- it's just a matter of figuring out where to find it.

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