Vernon R. Sandusky

ALTAMONT — Vernon R. Sandusky, a longtime singer, songwriter and professional musician, of Altamont died at 12:45 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, at his home at the age of 80. He had been in failing health. 

Vernon was born on June 30, 1939, in Earlham, Iowa, to Pernal and Mildred (Cottle) Sandusky. It was there that his talent was first discovered. At the age of 2 he won a talent contest. Future President Ronald Regan was the master of ceremonies for the event.

In 1947, Vernon and his family moved to Mound Valley, where he grew up. At the age of 15, he won the AFL/CIO Kansas state talent search contest. The prize was a trip to Hollywood. Vernon traveled Kansas preforming throughout his high school years. He graduated from Labette County Community High School at Altamont in 1956. He then attended Coffeyville Junior College. 

Vernon’s life was music. His career began in the mid-1950s. Vernon sang and played lead guitar for the band Bobby Poe and the Poe Kats. They later became the backup band for Rockabilly Hall of Fame Artist Wanda Jackson. In the early 1960s, he moved to the Washington, D.C., area and was lead guitarist and lead vocalist for The Chartbusters. The Chartbusters, a British Invasion era band, had several hit singles. The band played numerous gigs with popular stars of the time including The Animals, Chuck Berry, Johnny Rivers, Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys and many others.

In 1969, he joined Rodney Lay and the Wild West. For the next 27 years, he and Rodney played the music behind some of the most talented stars of the time, including Freddie Fender and Jody Miller. In 1976, Vernon and Rodney became the “sound” behind country music star Roy Clark. This combination lasted over 20 years. The group played everywhere from the Neewollah celebrations in Independence to the music halls in Russia. Three hundred shows a year was common for the group. Their performances included an appearance on the “Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” Not only was Vernon a gifted musician but he also produced the music for Roy Clark and Rodney Lay. In addition, Vernon was a cast member on television’s “Hee-Haw” for 15 years.

He performed for several years at the Roy Clark Theater in Branson, Missouri. He also accompanied Mr. Clark during a Grammy Award-winning performance on “Austin City Limits.” Following the closing of the Roy Clark Theater, he was a performer at the Grand Grove Opry in Grove, Oklahoma. Most recently, he played bass guitar in the gospel quartet Redemption’s Call, performing mainly in the Southeast Kansas area. Mr. Sandusky was inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame twice. He was honored for his talents as being part of Bobby Poe and the Poe Kats and also for lifetime achievement. He is also a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He was the co-founder and vice president of Major Label Records with partner David Webb.

He later owned and operated a carpet cleaning service, working until the age of 78. 

Vernon was a member of Western Way Cowboy Church in rural Altamont. He also enjoyed coyote hunting, carpentry and playing cards.   

Vernon and Barbara Carlson were married in November 1957. They later divorced.

He and Judi (Tilcock) McCartney were married on Nov. 2, 1970, and later divorced.

On Oct. 29, 2001, he and Norma A. (Colgin) Mustain were married. She survives of the home. 

Other survivors include two sons, Curtis Sandusky and his wife, Leslie, and Casey Sandusky, all of Edna; three daughters, Debbie Heberlein and her husband, Mark, of Villa Ridge, Missouri, Denise Hill and her husband, David, of rural Angola and Amy Jones and her husband, Chad, of Edna; three stepsons, Chad Mustain and his wife, Lela, of rural Parsons, Kevin Mustain and his wife, Misti, and Jeremy Mustain and his fiancé, Sarah, all of Parsons; a stepdaughter, Kayla Roberts and her husband, Clayton, of Parsons; 25 grandchildren; 27 great-grandchildren; a great-great-grandson; and two brothers, Johnny Sandusky and his wife, Ellen, of Altamont and Ronnie Sandusky and his wife, Janet, of Coffeyville.

He was preceded in death by two brothers, Arthur and Burl; two sisters, Rita Meeks and Donnabelle Neal; and four grandchildren, Chance, Destiny, Creed and Jessica.

The service will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at Western Way Cowboy Church near Altamont. Burial will follow at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. The family will receive friends from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the church. 

Memorials are suggested to Western Way Church or St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and may be left at or mailed to Forbes-Hoffman Funeral Home, P.O. Box 374, Parsons, KS 67357.

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