An article in Friday's Times featuring centenarian and frequent letter writer Carleton Ralston caught the eye of reader Trent Sanders of La Canada Flintridge.
Sanders is himself, to borrow reporter Gale Holland's phrase, a man of letters. Not only is he a regular correspondent to the Readers' Rep office, but he's had 54 letters to the editor published in The Times since 1985.
"My compliments to Mr. Ralston," Sanders emailed. "Letters to the editor are one of the few ways an individual can influence public debate."
Sanders said he keeps a notebook of his published letters, which total 205. "Plus several guest columns," he added.
In addition to The Times, his letters have been published in the Glendale News Press, La Canada Valley Sun and the Idaho Mountain Express.
He once led a Times reporter on a hike of little-known trails on the north side of Mt. Wilson, which was featured in a 2004 article in the Outdoors section.
"As a somewhat prolific letter writer to The Times, at one time I set a goal of writing a letter published in The Times containing only one sentence," Sanders said. "I met that goal on Dec. 13, 2006, under the heading of 'Bills Come Due.' Shortly afterward, and much to my horror, another writer wrote a letter with not only one sentence, but it contained only three words!"
That led to a new personal challenge, Sanders said -- "a letter with only one word."
"Did it!" he said, and he only had to wait about a year for the perfect opportunity. His one-word letter was published in The Times on Jan. 6, 2008, in response to an editorial about cliches.
The word? "Whatever."
Sanders describes himself as "pretty much far-right" and says he refers to The Times as the "Left Angeles Times, the paper I love to hate." But he said he also reads every column, every day.
And last spring, after The Times uncovered a financial scandal at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Sanders wrote: "I cannot imagine what life would be like without The Times' investigations. You are to be complimented. This is journalism at its best. Everyone in the Southland owes you a debt of gratitude."
When Sanders agreed to have his story of letters shared, he took the opportunity to also make a comment. This time, appropriately, it was about The Times' letters page:
"One of the things The Times is guilty of is that they allow public figures to use letters to the editor as their bully pulpit and/or to respond to a letter from the 'unwashed.' Because we don't have any other way to make our thoughts known, 'Letters' belong to us, not public figures or politicians."