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A Michigan Family Story

Andrea Sachs

Andrea Sachs (AB '75, JD '78), a longtime TIME magazine reporter with an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University ('83), recently established a bequest intention at her undergraduate alma mater, the University of Michigan, in honor of her mother, Joan Abrams Sachs (LSA '46), and in memory of her father, Theodore Sachs (JD '51). The Theodore and Joan Sachs Scholarship Fund will provide support for students in the Department of English Language and Literature. Here, Andrea shares her Michigan family story. 

When I enrolled at Michigan in 1971, it came as no surprise to anyone. All through my childhood, my parents had proudly called Ann Arbor their second home. Both had spent time on campus, starting with my mother, Joan. For her, Ann Arbor life began inauspiciously. 

It was 1945. World War II was ending, and veterans filled the dormitories. My mother found housing with three other women in the attic of a rooming house, but it was a disappointing year, and she moved back home with her parents, transferring to Wayne State University to study social work. 

Soon after, she and my father, Theodore Sachs, reconnected, having dated a little in high school. That year—1946—they fell in love. Both would graduate from Wayne State: he, in 1948; she, in 1949. 

My father moved to Ann Arbor to attend U-M Law School—a dream come true for him. As one of five children in a family of limited means, he relied on scholarships and summer jobs to finish school. He would sell Good Humor ice cream or, traveling by horse-drawn carriage, deliver milk. 

Andrea Sachs parents

My mother found work as a caseworker, visiting homes to ensure that proper care was taken of dependent children and seniors receiving public aid in Wayne County. Still in love, she and my father shuttled between Detroit and Ann Arbor. Sometimes my father would hitchhike—an affordable way to travel. 

In Law School, my father studied hard. By 1950, he was editor-in-chief of the Law Review. By now, my parents were married, and my mother—like many Law School wives—was accustomed to her new husband’s nonstop studying. Their parakeet, Clarence—named after the revered attorney Clarence Darrow—offered a welcome distraction. 

My mother’s social work job was transferred to Washtenaw County; that sometimes meant unsettling trips to remote farmhouses where clients didn’t always welcome such visits. My parents’ modest apartment near the Law Quad (monthly rent: $59) quickly became a destination among single friends in the dorms. And, though money was scarce, my mother and father—both 21—found ways to enjoy such cultural offerings as concerts at Hill Auditorium. 

When my father finished Law School in 1951, my folks moved back to Detroit. He joined the firm Rothe, Marston, Edwards & Bohn, and my parents began our family. I was born in 1952, and my brother, Jeffrey, arrived in 1954. My mother became a homemaker and helpmate to my father in his busy career. 

As an attorney, my father assumed a public role in Detroit city politics. Clients included the Detroit firefighters union, the Detroit teachers union, the Michigan AFL-CIO, the Michigan United Food and Commercial Workers, and the Michigan Democratic Party. A newspaper dubbed him a “legal eagle.” His years as a driven Law School student had more than prepared him.

Along the way, my parents kept up with life in Ann Arbor. 

For more than 15 years, my father headed the Committee of Visitors, a Law School alumni advisory group. My parents often visited friends on the faculty, including L. Hart Wright, the Paul G. Kauper Professor of Law; Theodore St. Antoine, the James E. and Sara A. Degan Professor of Law Emeritus, who would go on to serve as dean (1971–78); and Terrance Sandalow, the Edson R. Sunderland Professor Emeritus of Law, also a dean emeritus (1978–87). 

My parents’ relationship with U-M—and the trips on I-94— intensified when my mother’s brother Gerald D. Abrams (MD ’55, MedRes ’57) attended U-M Medical School, joining the faculty in 1959. My own adventure, which would revolve around the English Department, had yet to begin.

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