Snapshots: Mayor Sanders reflects on past and discusses future plans
The walls of St. Robert Mayor George Sanders' office are cluttered with unique pieces of prideful history.
One of the displays stands out immediately-a pair of overalls.
They are stitched together over and over again at the seams, and in some places are simply falling apart.
wore the overalls as a little boy, and his
mother who sewed them back together a hundred times decided to frame them many years later.
Along with the overalls are his
childhood sling shot, a handful of marbles, and a beautiful poem, all to serve as a reminder of his
humble beginning and how far he
Mayor Sanders celebrated his 74th birthday this year.
was elected into office in April 2005, making his
74th birthday coincide with the last year of his
term-a perfect time to reflect on the last seven decades, his
long journey to the Mayor's office, and his
goals for the next 12 months.
was born in Lawrence County, Alabama in 1940, and moved to Huntsville, Alabama when he
was 10 years old with his
mother, stepfather, and older sister.
Education was extremely important to his
mother, so George
sister walked two to three miles and rode a boat across a creek to get to the closest school every day.
There was only one room, with sheets hung from the ceiling to separate the different grades.
From that one room schoolhouse, Sanders went on to attend William Hooper Councill High School-the first high school for black students in Huntsville named after a former slave who later became President of Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU).
Sanders followed in his footsteps and earned a degree from AAMU in Business Administration, paying for the tuition by working for the local newspaper and performing countless hours of yard work.
But it was not an easy time for a young black man to live and earn an education.
"We would go into the bus stations and there were only two benches where we were allowed to sit and we had to get our tickets in a special line," Sanders
" Water fountains were 'white' and 'colored' and you better not get caught drinking 'white water'....it's something that happened, but if you've never been there, you will never know what it's like to be spit on and called names."
Civil Rights movement
Sanders became very involved in the Civil Rights movement through his local community, leading fundraisers, making public speeches in local churches, and participating in marches and sit-ins.
even met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when Dr. King came to Huntsville to speak and prepare the local fundraising groups in the early 1960s.
Page 2 of 3 - When Sanders describes the sit-ins, his
eyes grow somber.
"We would go into sit-ins and order food and they would serve you but they would either throw it on the floor or serve it full of mustard and slam it on the table.
And you had to pay for it.
But the key, he
explained, was self control.
friends could not retaliate, and "even if you got slapped in the head, you had to restrain yourself."
Despite the difficult times surrounding his
maintained a positive outlook during the interview and said he
actually reunited with his
wife of 52 years at a Civil Rights March.
The two knew each other as young children, and Mayor Sanders told her back then that he wanted to marry her someday.
They saw each other again at the Civil Rights March and later married when he
was 22 and she
was 18 years old.
They remain happily married today.
Military and family
Mayor Sanders was drafted in 1963, a year after their wedding.
served in the military for 23 years, first as a medical logistics Soldier and later as medic.
career took him all over the world, with two tours to Germany, a year in Korea, 30 months in Okinawa, and several tours in the continental United States.
He retired as a Master Sergeant and spent the last seven years of his career at Fort Leonard Wood, but his favorite duty station was Germany.
Soldiers were said to bring two things back with them from Germany-a stereo and a baby.
Mayor Sanders said, "We brought both."
That was the beginning of the Sander's family, and now the Mayor has two daughters, four grandchildren, a great grandson, and a great granddaughter on the way.
daughters are what kept him in the Fort Leonard Wood
area after retiring from the military.
Both girls graduated from Waynesville High School, and Mayor Sanders wanted to give them stability in their education.
daughters later earned their Bachelors and Masters Degrees, and all their children either graduated from or are currently attending college.
mother's emphasis on education and is very proud of all that his
family continues to accomplish.
In addition to raising his
federal service as a civilian for twenty years before entering into politics.
He said that politics was always an interest of his from a very young age, but that becoming a Mayor was not necessarily the goal.
He just wanted to get involved any way that he could, so he said that he started as an Alderman for the City of Saint Robert before "a good friend of mine, Mayor George Larson, asked me to run."
Page 3 of 3 - During his nine years in office, Mayor Sanders has certainly experienced ups, downs, and challenges, but he said that through it all he strived to "push this city forward and make the strong suggestions and bring in a city of diversity.
proudest accomplishment is creating an integrated and stronger community.
not done yet-Mayor Sanders has big plans for his
last year in office.
The now 74-year-old Mayor said he
wants to "continue the progress that I've started, get as many businesses as I can in here, and make the city proud of its accomplishments.
There are also plans to memorialize the USO club that formerly stood outside the gates of Fort Leonard Wood
, back when black Soldiers were not allowed in the USO or any other club on post.
The building was torn down but the chimney remains.
already has blueprints for the future memorial, where the chimney will be rebuilt with the original bricks, surrounded by a circular brick path, benches, and picnic tables.
Sanders is working with several Senior Noncommissioned Officers stationed at Fort Leonard Wood and hopes to bring the local NAACP chapter in on the project.
The goal is to have the monument completed by the end of his
But everyone wants to know-will he
run for mayor again next year?
According to Mayor Sanders
, you'll have to ask his
wife that question.
"I don't mind running again, it's my wife's decision that she
will have to make," he
For now, Sanders
is content with completing his
term honorably and with conviction-and celebrating his
74th birthday, of course.
spent the big day with his
family in Kentucky at the house of his
eldest daughter, just relaxing and reflecting on the many years he's
had and the many years he
"My father lived to be 90 years old, my mother is still alive at 96, so I guess I got about 100 more years left on me!
said during a birthday party thrown by coworkers.