John Saunders, Comic Strip Mary Worth, and ... Waterville?
You would have to take a considerable journey back in time to meet up with a 1930’s comic strip character named Apple Mary. However, the modern comic strip character Mary Worth can trace her ancestry back to Mary. Now what has any of this to do with Waterville, Ohio? Well, well known Toledo newscaster John Saunders, who made his home in Waterville for 36 years, was the author of both the Mary Worth and Steve Roper and Mike Nomad comic strips for many years.
John was a 1942 graduate of Toledo’s Libbey High School. He joined the Army in 1943 and took part in the Battle of the Bulge. He also was awarded a Purple Heart for his service during World War II. Following the war he embarked on a career in radio broadcasting before beginning a successful career as a Toledo TV newscaster at Channel 13, WSPD in 1951.
Actually, Mary Worth began life as a Depression era apple vendor whose deceased husband’s stocks regained value over the years. John’s father, Allen Saunders, took over the comic strip in 1939 renaming it Mary Worth’s Family. In 1942 he changed it once more to simply Mary Worth. It emerged as one of the all-time great soap opera comic strips in America.
In 1950, Allen asked his son John to help him write a Steve Roper and Mike Nomad sequence revolving around a fictional radio personality and in 1955 John assumed full responsibility for the Steve Roper and Mike Nomad strip. In 1979 when Allen retired, John was selected to succeed him as writer for Mary Worth. He wrote the storyline for years working with artist Joe Giella.
While some might find the character of Mary somewhat meddling or even nosey, John in a 1990 interview described her as “a confused observer of the modern scene who stands on the sidelines trying to catch up to the 20th Century.” But, he did maintain a sense of humor about his character later referring to her kiddingly as a “nosey old lady”. Beginning in 1975, Toledo disk jockey and radio talk show host Bob Kelly lampooned Mary Worth on his daily morning drive radio show. Kelly and John developed a friendship. Saunders sometimes gave Kelly advance copies of his storyline so Kelly could plan his parodies.
John and his wife eventually moved from Waterville to nearby Whitehouse where John died in 2003 at the age of 79. He is buried in Waterville’s Wakeman Cemetery. At the time of his death, Mary Worth was syndicated in over 350 newspapers worldwide.
Mary Worth continues as a popular comic strip by Joe Giella and Karen Moy.