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Tribute to life: Annual Tent City goes on in wake of benefactor's death

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    Nationally known rock photographer Harry Sandler and his exhibit at Toledo School for the Arts, Friday, Oct, 7, 2016.

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    In this photo, singer John Mellecamp, left, is shown with rock photographer-tour manager Harry Sandler, right, along Jackson Street in downtown Toledo on Oct. 21, 2016, moments before Mellencamp spoke to the Tent City crowd at the beginning of the 1Matters one-mile walk.

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Homeless advocate Ken Leslie’s annual Tent City event for Toledo’s disadvantaged, poor, sick, and forgotten is being held at Civic Center Mall again this weekend and, before we get too much farther into this, understand that we’ve just done something Ken doesn’t like by calling it his event because, he’ll argue, it’s not.

Sorry, friend. It is.

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In this photo, singer John Mellecamp, left, is shown with rock photographer-tour manager Harry Sandler, right, along Jackson Street in downtown Toledo on Oct. 21, 2016, moments before Mellencamp spoke to the Tent City crowd at the beginning of the 1Matters one-mile walk.

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It’s his, yours, and ours. It’s bluesman Patrick Lewandowski’s and others who had a hand in its creation 27 years ago, when it was founded by a group called the Homeless Awareness Project, and those who had the strength, energy, and determination to bring it back in 2006 after a six-year hiatus.

For the uninitiated, Tent City is a veritable lollapalooza of homegrown empathy, a rain-or-shine campout with the homeless when Ohio weather can and will throw anything at you. It’s one weekend of the year when Toledo’s haves and have-nots come together at what’s called the corner of Love and Compassion — an actual intersection set up on site — to provide services to those in need and imagine the possibilities of a better world.

Tent City would be just another well-meaning gesture without the incredible backing it has amassed over the years from groups such as ProMedica, Mercy Health Partners, and the Mildred Bayer Clinic for the Homeless.

Doctors, dentists, opticians, nurses, and myriad others donate time, as do many hospitals, shelters, religious groups, medical companies, and social service agencies. This year’s list includes more than 30 restaurants, Cherry Street Mission Ministries, Family House, Lourdes University, several Toledo and Lucas County agencies, Lifeline Ministries, and many, many more.

But Tent City always was and always will be about human relationships. It will only continue to succeed if it never loses sight of that, which brings us to Harry Sandler.

Harry was a behind-the-scenes rock ’n’ roll legend well-known to many people in the music industry. He wasn’t a founder or co-founder of Tent City or the groups associated with it, 1Matters and Veterans Matter.

But after singer John Mellencamp introduced him to Ken in 2010, Harry became an important supporter of those efforts and was as down-to-earth as any of the hundreds of volunteers.

Look up the word affable and you’ll find Harry. He was the kind of person in life who sticks with you, even if you only knew him or her for a relatively brief time.

Then — poof! — out of nowhere, Billboard magazine has this headline on Sept. 5: “Harry Sandler, Rock Photographer & Famed Tour Manager, Dies at 73.” Harry died on Sept. 2, after a short-but-highly-aggressive bout with pancreatic cancer.

Another lesson in the fragility of life.

Harry had, in many ways, a storybook life. He was a tour manager, photographer, truck driver, sound engineer, and jack-of-all-trades in a rock ’n’ roll career that began in 1964. He was part of the Haight-Ashbury scene during San Francisco’s Summer of Love in 1967. He attended Woodstock and had a hand in producing the largest festival to follow it, the 1983 US Festival in Southern California, as well as Simon & Garfunkel’s 1981 Central Park concert.

He toured with some of the industry’s bigger stars, such as John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, Katy Perry, the Eagles, Billy Joel, Jewel, Van Halen, Debbie Harry, Joan Jett, and Stevie Nicks. He photographed them and many others, including Dr. John, Peter Frampton, Ron Wood, Bob Dylan, and the Who, while in their prime.

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Nationally known rock photographer Harry Sandler and his exhibit at Toledo School for the Arts, Friday, Oct, 7, 2016.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Harry’s stories of life on the road with such rock icons were captivating enough. But he also was an Army veteran, serving from 1962 to 1964, and had a soft spot in his heart for veterans.

Hence his association with Tent City and other programs Leslie, a formerly homeless person himself, has led on behalf of other homeless. The original Homeless Awareness Project morphed into what is today known as 1Matters, a nonprofit inspired by Mellencamp’s first visit to Toledo on Nov. 2, 2007.

Back then, Mellencamp made an unannounced visit to Tent City hours before his concert at the SeaGate Centre, and he became so impressed by the effort he had someone from his staff bring back 70 tickets for the homeless. He stopped at one point during his show and told them to remember every life matters.

That led to 1Matters and its offshoot group, Veterans Matter, veteransmatter.org, which as of Wednesday had housed 1,736 veterans. Harry was especially fond of that group, donating proceeds to it from a photography exhibit he held at the Toledo School for the Arts in October, 2016.

Harry had some amazing photographs in that show, his third that benefitted Toledo-area homeless.

Nobody would have held it against Mellencamp if he did a one-off in 2007 and never came back to Tent City. But he did Oct. 21, speaking briefly to the crowd along Jackson Street while battling a cold and trying to save his voice for his sold-out concert that night at the Stranahan Theater. He also has done several public service announcements for 1Matters during his 10-year association with the group, including one this year that can be viewed at 1matters.org.

It’s easy to be cynical about anyone’s motives, especially with all of the turmoil America has seen in 2017. America hasn’t been this polarized in a long time, if ever.

But people like Harry remind us there’s still a lot of heart out there, and reason to hang onto hope.

“Harry Sandler worked with me for 32 years. We fought many a round together against unscrupulous promoters, record companies, managers, merchandisers, and tried to keep ticket prices [far] from dishonest scalpers,” Mellencamp told Billboard. “Harry was part of my family. All my kids grew up knowing him, and we traveled the world together. I don’t recall having any serious arguments with Harry. He was generally correct about most things. But mostly I remember just laughing with him.”

Harry’s Facebook page, facebook.com/harry.sandler.7, is filled with dozens of tributes to a life well-lived.

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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