He’s attended over 1,180 city council, committee, and community meetings, has been awakened at all times of the night to help quell community problems, has been called out of his day job to deal with city issues, and even sustained a potentially-fatal shooting as a result of intervening after witnessing some men smoking marijuana at the Booker T. Washington Recreation Center in 1976.
When John Anderson moved to Sapulpa, he never thought he’d become a city councilor (or commissioner, as it was known then), let alone the one with the longest-running tenure in the history of the Sapulpa City Council.
The outgoing councilor in Ward 2 approached Anderson about running in 1972, when he was just 27 years old, a novice to city politics, and still becoming acquainted with the city and its citizens. It took some convincing for him to make this commitment, but he eventually acquiesced and won the seat.
He served a four-year term, was beaten in 1976 but came back from 1978 to 1980. In 1980, he moved back to his hometown of Bristow. Then came back to Sapulpa in 1992 and ran again, and has held the seat since. This makes him the longest-serving city councilor Sapulpa has ever had.
His dedication to playing football and running track at Bristow High School (where he still holds two records) led to a college athletic scholarship to a junior college in 1963, though he was only there two short weeks before enlisting in the military. He spent three years in the Army–at Fort Benning, GA, Fort Dix, NJ, Fort Polk, LA, and Fort Hood, Texas, stateside. Then, he was stationed in Wildflecken, Germany, a training area for U.S. infantry units where he was injured and therefore unable to fight in the Vietnam War.
These places, experiences, and new acquaintances prepared him well for the leadership and community service that would eventually be required of him. He says, “You meet all walks of people in the Army. There are so many people. That’s where my ability to work with anyone came from.”
Anderson has held many positions and worn many hats over the course of his career. After leaving the Army, he obtained his water-and-sewer license from Bristow, attended the Oklahoma School of Accounting, and spent over 10 years at Bartlett-Collins Glass as a master machinist.
After getting married to a native Sapulpan and moving here, Anderson began his community service by working with the Masonic Lodge, the American Lodge, the local NAACP chapter, and the Northside Concerned Citizens group. This unique organization existed during the Nixon administration and brought privileged people in from all over the world to live with local residents and to learn how African American and economically-disadvantaged people lived. It also trained them to socialize with demographics that differed from their own.
Anderson says that people often wonder how he was able to get so much done when he was such a young man. He says this was due to old-fashioned hard work, as well as making an effort to get to know as many people as possible, working with everyone, and not succumbing to being a “Yes Man.” During his early time of community service, he learned that, “You must learn to follow before you lead. Today, people want to lead before they follow.” He further advises that many people today don’t understand that the freedom of speech doesn’t mean saying just anything. “You should know what you’re talking about. And, ‘Yes, ma’am’ and ‘no, ma’am’ will take you a long way!”
Anderson’s ability to liaise and compromise with people of all races, creeds, ages, and genders has helped him accomplish a plethora of feats. Some of the highlights were when he fought to keep BTW open and helped modernize it, created the road to North Heights Cemetery and eradicated two nearby landfills, participated in demolition projects to tear down derelict houses and rebuild new ones in his ward, helped fund and build the first fire station in his area, took part in erecting the overpass on Line Street between Main and Mission Streets, curbed and guttered Gray Street from Dewey Avenue to Johnson, helped establish the fire station on South Main Street, regularly rescued people on South Main who were stranded due to the Polecat Creek flooding, and has helped deescalate several potentially-aggressive gatherings due to race relations. And when the local newspaper quit delivering papers to the Vista Plaza Apartments in 1993, Anderson had them all delivered to one place and distributed them himself. These are just a few examples of his service to his neighbors and community during his 36 years of elected leadership.
Being able to work with different demographics of people did not thwart his unwavering adherence to his values and boundaries. He says, “I don’t care if I win or lose, but I’m not going to try to do everything for everyone.” He acts and votes according to what he feels is best for the entire community, regardless of popular opinion, black or white, Republican or Democrat. One of his mottos is, “You play fair and I’ll play fair.” He also emphasizes that “You can’t do anything unless you work with people.”
While speaking about his tenure with the city council, Anderson concluded, “It’s over now.” But though his time as an elected leader may be ending, it is clear that his dedication to his neighborhood and community never will.