Terry Wayne Sanders: Meet the man behind Branson’s most beloved characters


BRANSON NEWS: In Branson you’ll find a few entertainers who work for multiple theaters, shows and attractions, but chances are you’re not going to find anyone in town with as busy of a schedule as Terry Wayne Sanders.For more than four decades, Sanders has been entertaining locals and tourists alike with his hilarious comedy, multitude of characters and unwavering love of the Branson area. On July 20, Sanders was welcomed by a crowd of approximately 50 to speak on his 42 year Branson career at the Branson Centennial Museum for their Tuesday Talks series.Currently, the comedian holds seven different jobs in Branson. In 2021, Sanders is celebrating his 42nd season with Silver Dollar City, his 20th season to perform in the Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Drama, his 15th season to perform at Big Cedar Lodge, his sixth season with CJ Newsom’s Classic Country and Comedy at the Americana Theatre and his second season to do Facebook Live for Little Hacienda’s Taco Tuesdays’ in Hollister.

When not on stage, Sander also hosts a television program on The Vacation Channel and, with his wife Dede, Sanders also runs Grandma Beulah’s Airbnb.Sanders said his love for Branson first began in 1965 when his grandfather brought the family from Mountain Grove to Branson for a little getaway.“We were able to go to Silver Dollar City, because back then Silver Dollar City was free. You had to pay $1.25 to go into Marvel Cave. Those were the days let me tell you. Now people go to Silver Dollar City and go, ‘How much?’ Then they say, ‘There’s a cave?’” Sanders said. “The very first day there at Silver Dollar City, I told my family and my Grandpa who brought us down there, I said, ‘Grandpa, thank you.’ I said, ‘I want to be here someday.’ He laughed thinking I was just a silly kid wanting to play hillbilly and maybe be on a train, but I knew right then that’s what I wanted to do.”From Silver Dollar City, the Sanders family traveled into town where they caught two shows, which only strengthened Sanders desire to one day become a Branson performer.  “We saved up enough money to go to a show that night called The Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Drama. The same thing happened. I was smitten,” Sanders said. “I said, ‘I want to be in that show.’ The very next night we also got to go to The Baldknobbers Jamboree. Oh my goodness. I said, ‘I want to be in a music show.’ Right there the seeds were planted and this is what I wanted to do.”After graduating from Mountain Grove High School in 1977, Sanders began attending Southern Missouri State University in Springfield, where he graduated in 1982. While still in college, Sanders got his first job with Silver Dollar City.“I got my job in 1980 at Silver Dollar City. I had the best time ever. I was working on a ride called Rube Dugan’s Diving Bell, it was a submarine ride in case you’ve never heard about this. It was phenomenal,” Sanders said. “That was my first daytime job. Of course I realized it was a ride, but I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to make this a ride. This is going to be a show.’ And it was.”    As Sanders said many times to those attending his presentation on Tuesday, he loves to stay busy. So it wasn’t a surprise to anyone he knew back then when he took on a second job in 1980.“My second job was a night time job with Mr. Shad Heller and the Corn Crib Theatre. He had a production called The Toby Show,” Sanders said. “I loved working with Shad Heller. He was my hero, he was my mentor and he was my friend. He was also on five episodes of ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ that were filmed here in Branson.”Fast forward just a few years and Sanders found himself introducing audiences to one of his longest running characters.

“I’ve been Homer Lee since about 1983. I was with a group called The Wilkinson Brothers. They were the hottest show in Branson, Missouri in 1983. They built a brand new theater and they were there for many years, until they lost it,” Sanders said. “Another group came into town called The Braschler Music Show. They said, ‘We’d like to have a comedian. Our’s is going to further his writing career. Would you be our comedian?’ I went with them. I thought I’ll try it for a couple of years. I was with the Braschler’s for 17 years and I loved them so much.”Another character that has been a major part of Sanders life and career has been his tribute to the late television personality and comedian Joan Rivers. “Joan Rivers has been a go to for me for many years. I’ve always been a fan of her comedy and her style,” Sanders said. “She was brash and cussed like a sailor, but there was something that said, ‘This woman is amazing because she gets it.’ She was so smart. She was the smartest person I’ve ever known.”In 1984, Sanders said a Pizza Hut was built next door to The Wilkinson Brothers Theatre. On opening day he walked inside and it was there he was introduced to the love of his life.“Greeting us as we all came in was this short little blonde personality plus. Her name was Deanna Zane Edwards, also known as Dede. I fell in love with that girl right off the bat. She was just something special,” Sanders said. “Guess what. Six nights a week, I had Pizza Hut.”After four years of dating, the two were married in 1988. The following fall, Sanders received his next big opportunity.“In the fall of 1989 the producer and director of the show Hee Haw came to Branson looking for new blood, so they went to all the shows,” Sanders said. “He came to the Braschler’s Music Show. They saw me and we talked after the show. ‘Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you too.’ Nothing big. Okay fine. The next day I get a call from my boss Jim at Silver Dollar City. ‘Hey Terry, Those guys from Hee Haw are here to see you.’ I said, ‘No, no, no. They saw me last night.’ He said, ‘No. They want to see you again out here in action. They saw you on stage and they want to see you working with people.’”Following his street performances at SDC that day he traveled back to the Braschler Theatre where Janice Braschler handed him a business card with a phone number and instructions to call “those guys from Hee Haw,” which he did right away.“I called them up and they said, ‘Terry, if you don’t mind in about two weeks we’re going to fly you down to Nashville, Tennessee. We want you to film 13 episodes of Hee Haw,” Sanders said. “I said, ‘M’mmm OK!’ I got down there and it was sort of like being in Branson and working at Silver Dollar, because everybody was a friend. Lulu Roman was there. Ray Clark was there. Grandpa Jones too. It was just amazing.”In December 1990, Sanders’ first child, Austin, was born. A short time later, their second son, Evan, followed. In January 2020, Austin was killed in a single vehicle crash in Ozark. Sanders also shared with those in attendance how the passing of his son impacted him, his family and the community.  “Despite the sadness, Austin still inspires all of us. He lived big, he had a great life,” Sanders said. “We wanted him with us for a long, long time, but the lord had a better idea and we just have to say, ‘Lord I trust in you.’ That’s what you have to do. It’s called blind faith.”   On top of those already mentioned, Sanders has also worked with Pierce Arrow, The Grand Jubilee, The Branson Brothers Show and Shoji Tabuchi. Additionally Sanders has brought his Barney Fife character to life many times over the years in support of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. To learn more about Sanders or to see where and when you can find him performing next visit homerlee.com.



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