The newest member of the executive advisory board for the Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod may be on the cusp of his 99th birthday, but energy for taking on new projects is the envy of his much younger peers.
At an interview at his home on Popponesset Island Road, William B. Sandler was full of enthusiasm, grabbing photographs from table tops to illustrate elements of his long life.
His story is one of, “Rags to riches—to rags—to riches,” he said, hinting at a ruinous business decision and a subsequent climb to success. Mr. Sandler’s fortunes rose and fell with trends in automobiles, from an early job as a mechanic in the 1920s to importing Japanese-made speakers in the ’60s and ’70s.
Mr. Sandler and his wife, Lillian, already have a hefty resume of charitable giving over the last three decades, including being original donors in 1999 to the construction of the Boys & Girls clubhouse in Mashpee. But something prompted Mr. Sandler to do more for the club. He decided to join the advisory board.
“I was a product of the YMHA [Young Men’s Hebrew Association] in Boston,” he said, adding that he identifies with the children who frequent the Boys & Girls Club in Mashpee.
“That was me,” he said.
Depression-era Roxbury was a place where people owned next to nothing, he said. At the club, he connected with a mentor and learned a lifelong love of sports. He stopped playing tennis and swimming only recently.
Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots and Mr. Sandler’s neighbor on Popponesset Island, said the nonagenarian will be an asset to the Boys & Girls Club. The Kraft family donated $500,000 to build the club at its inception and remains active supporters.
“I hope I am as vital at 75 as Bill is at 99,” he wrote in an statement to the Enterprise. “He’s my idol. What a great appointment by the Boys and Girls Club. Bill is a special man who always does good for every organization in which he is involved. I think the Boys and Girls Club is very lucky to have him as part of their organization.”
Ruth W. Provost, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club, said she was delighted when Mr. Sandler asked to join the board during one of his usual summer visits to the club.
“He’s got more energy now than I’ve ever had,” she said. “I talk to Bill and I feel like a snail.”
A Party Planned To The Nines
In celebration of William B. Sandler’s 99th birthday, the Ninety-Nine Restaurant in Mashpee is hosting a party and fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod. Mr. Sandler was named to the executive advisory board of the club earlier this year.
The restaurant, which is providing the food for free, requests a donation to the Boys & Girls Club in the amount of $99 per couple.
One of the organizers of the event, William J. Cohen, said that he wanted to throw a party for Mr. Sandler that benefits a cause that is close to his heart.
“The Boys & Girls Club is the best program around, so I thought we’d tie the two together.”
“The synergy is just amazing,” said Ruth W. Provost, executive director of the club. “Our census this year showed that we have 999 kids in the program. It’s the perfect time to celebrate a 99th birthday at the Ninety-Nine Restaurant.”
Ms. Provost added that the party is a “fabulous opportunity to meet Bill if you don’t know him yet.”
The party is Wednesday, September 12, at 4:30 PM. Checks payable to “The Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod” can be sent to PO Box 895, Mashpee MA 02649. For more information, call Mr. Cohen at 508-477-2965.
Mr. Sandler was born October 9, 1913, the fourth child of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland. They lived in a second-story apartment in Roxbury. At the time of the stock market crash of 1929, Mr. Sandler was 16 years old and helping his father with the horse and cart that provided transportation for the family’s junk business.
Academics did not excite young Bill. Anyway, there was no money for college.
“College? I was 18 years old before my mother bought me a sweater to keep me warm,” he said.
After graduating from high school, he started repairing cars at the Roxbury garage owned by his brother, Murray. A repo man named Rubin Epstein who was getting his car fixed noticed that Mr. Sandler had an under-utilized gift for sales.
“He shouted at me to get out from under the car,” Mr. Sandler said. “I said, ‘What? I’m fixing the muffler.’ He said, ‘You’re too smart to be working on cars.’”
At the urging of Mr. Epstein, Mr. Sandler started a business selling auto parts to repair shops out of the back seat of a Model T Ford. By 1940, at age 27, he had a roaring company that was growing faster than he could manage without more help. He rented a storefront on Roxbury Crossing and opened Hub Auto Supply. The business moved to Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.
“I ended up with twelve men on the counter selling hot rod supplies,” he said. “Before I knew it, I had 75 people working for me.”
In the meantime, Mr. Epstein became president of the City Bank and Trust Company of Boston and, later, a trustee at Brandeis University.
However, Mr. Sandler’s next business decision proved disastrous. He began manufacturing eight-track car stereos in a factory in Brockton. Not only were eight-track players doomed as consumers overwhelmingly chose cassette players by the end of the 1970s, Mr. Sandler’s Soundex company produced players with a technical flaw. The machine’s transistors stopped working when they got hot. Customers demanded a refund. By 1966, the company was out of business.
Mr. Sandler started over, searching automobile shows for ideas. In 1967, he took a sample headrest from an auto show in Japan and got a contract to sell the product to The Pep Boys, a growing auto-parts chain. Armed with his experience in importing Japanese goods, he began to build a company that sold auto stereo speakers made in Japan.
He was just in time to catch the rising wave of the Japanese electronic industry. The company flourished, surpassing his previous business ventures. Mr. Sandler sold the company in 1977, bought a condominium in West Palm Beach, Florida, and built the house on Popponesset Island. The couple still splits their year between Florida and Mashpee. Their two sons live in the Boston area and a daughter lives in Minneapolis.
In retirement, the Sandlers have focused on charitable giving. Their projects range from founding the Israeli Tennis Center Association and the Jewish Art Foundation to building a Variety Club chapter in Palm Beach, connected with the Jimmy Fund.
They return to Mashpee each summer for the natural beauty of Popponesset Bay and the warm friendships with neighbors, the couple said.
“Most of our neighbors are young enough to be our children,” said Ms. Sandler, who will turn 93 in October and has been married to her husband for 71 years.
“They still include us and invite us over for dinner,” she said.
“I like everything about Mashpee,” Mr. Sandler added.
As far as the secret to his longevity, Mr. Sandler says he never did much smoking or drinking and still exercises three days a week.
Ms. Sandler said she is not sure what the secret is. “Probably genes,” she said.
And the secret of their long marriage?
“Patience,” she said.
“She’s a sweetheart,” Mr. Sandler said.