Sunderine Temple’s life was not ordinary.
Her mother died when she was two or three, according to her husband, Wayne “Doc” Temple. She ran away from an orphanage when she was nine or so, he says, and fell in with a carnival, which helps explain her fascination with the merry-go-round at White Oaks Mall. Long ago in Florida, she picked cotton and strawberries.
“When you asked her about her education, she said, ‘Defective,’” Temple recalls.
Born in Missouri, Sunderine – Sandy to her friends – eventually landed in Springfield, where she became an assistant to the wife of Alvin S. Keys. She also catered parties. An artistic streak was notable enough that one of her paintings, a depiction of a cardinal, hangs at the Old Lux. No slouch with firearms, her FOID card is valid through 2026, and she was an Endowment Life member of the National Rifle Association.
“She was a good shot,” Temple says. “She was steady. She shot a .22 rifle and .38 Smith and Wesson Special. She and I always knew what we were shooting at.”
Sunderine was an institution at a Springfield institution.
In 1969, she went to work at the Old State Capitol. The building had just been reassembled after being taken apart stone by stone after decades spent as the Sangamon County courthouse. For 41 years, she worked as the building’s volunteer coordinator, visitor guide and floor manager.
She was, Temple says, perfect for the job.
“She was not only beautiful, she liked people,” Temple says. “She was kind and considerate. She liked Lincoln.”
So did Temple, a former history professor at Lincoln Memorial University who became deputy director of the Illinois State Archives in 1964 and wrote more than a dozen books on the Great Emancipator. Before that, he held a top security clearance as a junior officer on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff during World War II.
The two met at Steak ’n Shake in 1979 – a waitress named Rhonda connected them. It was January. Soon afterward, he asked her to cater his birthday in February. Where, she asked. Honolulu, he answered.
“She said, ‘You want to take me to Honolulu?’” Temple recalls. “I said, ‘Yes, I do. I want to spoil somebody.’ She said, ‘I’ll go if can have my own room.’ I said, ‘That’s no problem.’”
The extended date at the Moana Hotel went well and included a tableside visit from a member of the Ink Spots. He proposed upon their return home, and the couple was wed at the governor’s mansion in April, barely four months after meeting. Some had their doubts, Temple acknowledges, but time proved skeptics wrong.
Temple knew he’d fallen for a younger woman, but he wasn’t quite sure just how young. Only after the wedding did Sandy learn when she was born. She’d always picked a day – Aug. 21 – out of the air, her husband said, but she’d never needed the truth. That changed when the couple made plans for overseas vacations and she needed birth records to get a passport.
“They were just a magnificent couple,” says Sharon Miller, a neighbor whose friendship spans three decades. “If they weren’t working, they were certainly traveling – he took her all over the world. They went out to eat, several locations throughout the community. They had their own personal waitresses at every restaurant they went to. Everywhere they went, they always gave out candy. Everybody knew that.” Twix and Dove chocolate were mainstays.
Sunderine loved to read and helped with research on several books, particularly a volume about the Old State Capitol, Temple says. He says Sunderine insisted that the two write the building’s history. The project consumed 10 years. “She helped me quite a bit with it,” Temple says. Among other things, Sunderine knew what questions visitors to the landmark asked most often, and the two used that information to help compile an appendix.
Upon her retirement from the Old State Capitol, Sunderine was presented a key to the building. Architects who planned the building’s renovation are the only others so honored, Temple says.