Beloved Educator, Mentor, Leader
Boston lost an old-style leader in manual arts on March 28 with the death of Charlie Sandler, 88. A man with a “heart of gold,” Sandler stewarded the Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts as a center for woodworking, sewing, and other crafts through more than half a century, all while supporting Vocational Education in Boston’s public schools.
The Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts was an early leader in the spread of “Shop and Home Economics,” staples of 20th century American public education. Charlie Sandler was one of a series of educators who directed the nonprofit, remaining tied to the school for 55 years. Stopping by in early mornings to stoke the boiler, returning after dinner to teach woodworking to adults, and on Saturdays to teach kids, Sandler gathered his young children to mail out course catalogs from their kitchen table, and recruited teachers from amongst his old union colleagues and old-style artisans in Boston’s neighborhoods.
Charlie Sandler came to the trades through shipbuilding and carpentry after World War II, then turned his passion for ‘making’ to a commitment to vocational training. He taught carpentry and supervised teachers at Roxbury High School, Dorchester High School, Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, and the Hubert H. Humphrey Occupational Resource Center; and at Fitchburg State College and UMass Boston.
In 1966, he joined the Eliot School as a woodworking instructor, bringing his craft to children outside of school hours and adults outside of work. Warm-hearted and generous, he was known for his open embrace of all who wished to learn. He taught hundreds of Boston Public School and college students as well as hundreds more through the Eliot School. Sandler retired from the Eliot School in 2012, on his 80th birthday, but continued to provide advice and support. In the weeks before his death, he helped advise on installation of an air-cleaning system for the Eliot’s 19th century Jamaica Plain schoolhouse, a measure designed to ease re-opening after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Neighbor, educator, and historian Mary Smoyer recalls, “Charlie did everything at the Eliot School: sweeping the floor, shoveling the snow, bringing in teachers, opening for the classes and closing up after the classes––all in addition to his full-time job in the BPS.”
Abigail Norman, Executive Director, says Sandler will be missed. “Charlie infused the Eliot School with warmth and charm. He truly had a heart of gold.”
The Eliot School’s wood shop bears his name, and the school is establishing a Scholarship Fund in his honor. Donations may be made online or sent to: Eliot School, attn: Sandler Scholarship, PO Box 300351, Boston MA 02130.