Lakes Have a Social History

–submitted by Valerie Johnson; photo by Pete Christianson

Don SanfordWe Madisonians love our lakes, but often know little about them.  Don Sanford, long time Lake Mendota sailor and iceboater, described to downtown Rotarians this week how he set out to correct that situation 11 years ago as he began to research On Fourth Lake: A Social History of Lake Mendota.

Sanford shared with Rotarians some of the stories in the book, which includes a wealth of geographic facts, bizarre happenings, adventure, tragedy, trivia, maps and photos. Sanford said, “It’s a story about fish; it’s a story about swimming; it’s a story about boating; it’s a story about life on the lake.”

Sanford interviewed dozens of past and present Mendota “water rats” and searched for photos that help to tell the stories that shaped the lakeshore as we know it today.

For example, one story told was about Joseph E. Davies, former ambassador to the USSR, and his house on the lake.  Another told was of a houseboat built by first year law students named after wrongful taking of lands. “The stories just kept coming as I researched,” he said.

A native of Syracuse, New York, Sanford moved to Madison with his wife, Barb, in 1976 to accept a position with Wisconsin Public Television (WPT). During nearly three decades at WPT, he served as lighting director, production manager, volunteer manager and occasional on-air host. Sanford holds a BS from State University of New York at Oswego and an MS from Syracuse University.

He is a member of Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club, past Commodore of Mendota Yacht Club and Commodore of the International Nite Ice Yacht Class Association. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Masters License and since 2006 he has been a captain for Betty Lou Cruises in Madison.  

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