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William Sandri, businessman and philanthropist, dead at 67

GREENFIELD — William A. Sandri, a leading Franklin County businessman and philanthropist, died Monday at his Crystal Beach, Fla., home. He was 67.

Sandri, a “visionary” who took over the Greenfield-based heating oil and gasoline distribution business started in 1930 and turned it into a much larger, diversified set of enterprises around the Northeast and beyond, was also known for his dedication to community causes ranging from Big Brothers-Big Sisters to Greenfield Community College and the Greenfield Teen Center.

The Greenfield native, who translated his own love of golf into a trifecta of top-flight golf courses as well as an annual tournament that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Big Brothers-Big Sisters, had sustained a period of about six weeks declining health, according to family members.

A 1964 graduate of Deerfield Academy and later the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Sandri returned in 1969 from Stowe, Vt., where he’d been managing a restaurant, to Greenfield to join the family business.

His father, Acilio Remo “A.R.” Sandri. had founded Sandri Oil Co. with a single Main Street Cities Service gas station in 1930, and the younger Sandri had worked at various jobs in the business during summer vacations, but by the 1969 the number of Sandri gas stations had grown to nearly 50 in Franklin County and two adjacent counties in southern Vermont and New Hampshire.

“Bill was a leader,” said Richard Barnes, vice president of the Sandri Companies, who has worked for the business for 45 years and recalled how as a second-generation partner in the family business, he saw the opportunity created by the decision of Sunoco — which the Greenfield-based company had switched to in 1964 — to downsize its marketing operation and sell off stations. Sandri, who succeeded his father as president in 1973, began buying up all Sunoco stations in Vermont, New Hampshire and eastern New York. “Sandriland,” as the geographical area became known, grew to about 120 stations, recalls Barnes.

The 1976 buyout of Sunoco stations put the company in the forefront of fuel distribution in New England and resulted in it becoming the largest distributor of Sunoco gasoline, fuels, and lubricating oils in the United States at the time. Under his leadership, the company was the first to attain the 5 million gallon mark for gasoline sales in one month and the first to attain the 50 million gallon mark for gasoline sales in one year.

Sandri went on to become president and director of the Independent Oil Marketers Association of New England, president and director of the Petroleum Marketing Education Foundation, and regional vice president and director of the Petroleum Marketers Association of America.

In 1987, as an avid golfer living in Bernardston, he had the company buy Crumpin-Fox Club and its related businesses, the Phases restaurant and Fox Inn.

“Bill was always five years ahead of us,” Barnes said. “He was the kind of guy that, when he saw people selling out, he always thought it was a great opportunity to buy.” As an avid golfer, “He saw that golf was an up and coming thing and knew there would be lots of baby boomers coming along who would want something to do. He thought golf was a wise investment. He and his father believed in real estate anyway, and it was a natural extension, and it was right there.”

Sandri, who had already helped the family oil business acquire several home-heating-oil companies, and expanding the lubricating oils operations while developing a waste-oil furnace and boiler subsidiary to burn recycled motor oil at garages, eventually expanded the golf division, adding the Fox Hopyard course in East Haddam, Conn., and the Fox Hollow course in New Port Richey, Fla. All were award-winning courses designed by either Robert Trent Jones or Jones protege Roger Rulewich.

“He’s probably grown the business 30 times what it was when he came here,” Barnes says.

“If ever a man lived a life to the fullest, it was William A. Sandri,” recalled a printed statement from his son-in-law, Timothy Van Epps, who became president of the company in 2007.

Philanthropy giant

Also, Van Epps said, “ Bill was committed to being a good corporate citizen and his generosity and philanthropy toward various causes is well documented. None made him more proud than the work he did to help found the local chapter of the mentoring organization of Big Brothers-Big Sisters, and he passed away peacefully knowing that his legacy will live on through the Franklin County chapter of that association.”

“Bill was probably one of the best philanthropists we’ve had in the area,” said longtime friend Robert Cohn of Greenfield, who said Sandri gave him his “very first lesson in economics” at age 9. when he told told a friend at their Camp Shelloy bus stop who’d asked to borrow a quarter that he’d lend him a dollar instead because as the lender, he’d “never forget the dollar.”

Cohn said Sandri took his father’s business to a whole different level. He used to say to me, ‘Well, we’re in the business of dirt, we own a lot of dirt.’ He was into all of it, and you know what? He knew exactly what was going on everywhere.”

He added that as a connoisseur of wines, world traveler and adventure who loved water-skiing, cooking and more, “He knew a lot about a lot of things.

“Bill was one of the most brilliant minds I’ve known in my career,” said Cohn, who served with him as a member of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. “He was always smart, always funny, one of the best athletes, a phenomenal skier, racer, car driver...”

“When it came to philanthropy,” Cohn said, “Bill Sandri was a real visionary. He was the first person from Franklin County, I believe, to be part of the Community Foundation. He was totally dedicated to education, a tremendous giver to just about everything, personally and professionally. That kind of a loss is hard to make up. … This community would not be the same without the Sandris. Nobody knew a lot of what he did.”

Sandri and his family’s business helped the town establish its After Hours Teen Center by buying then-vacant Newton Street School from the town in 1986 and also was a longstanding supporter of Greenfield Community College, with the business each year underwriting GCC’s “Striving and Driving Scholarship Fund” golf tournament. It has also committed to a $50,000 contribution for the Sandri Science Studio at GCC.

But Sandri is best known cause in the community was Big Brothers-Big Sisters, stemming from a college experience in which his fraternity “adopted” a shoe-shine boy, according to Kay Johnson, that organization’s former executive director.

“He understood how important mentoring was, and that not every kid had the economic advantages he did,” she said. “He was our guardian angel, who helped organize annual golf tournaments that sustained the organization.”

Sandri, who also was elected to the Board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, was instrumental in setting up the local chapter’s mentoring program at his alma mater, Deerfield Academy, in 1980.

Said Big Brothers-Big Sisters board member Richard Colgan, “He’s always had a big heart for the kids in the community and especially disadvantaged kids, and he bent over backwards to help us out.”

In 2007, Sandri was awarded the inaugural Leadership in Philanthropy award by the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

Sandri also served on the board of trustees of Farren Medical Hospital from 1976 to 1984. He was a loyal patron of The Boy Scouts of America, and was named Philanthropist of Distinction for Franklin County by the National Society of Fund Raising Executives in 1997.

In 2006, Bill committed $100,000 to the Second Century Fundraising Campaign to support significant renovations and improvements to Baystate-Franklin Medical Center.

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