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Sanders celebrates birthday with friends

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  • | 4:00 a.m. October 10, 2012
Rusty Chinnis and the birthday girl, Virginia Sanders. Courtesy of Rusty Chinnis.
Rusty Chinnis and the birthday girl, Virginia Sanders. Courtesy of Rusty Chinnis.
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Sunday, Oct. 7, Virginia Sanders celebrated her birthday with a group of close friends at her home in Hideaway Bay. Sanders has long been an inspiration to me and other budding environmentalists. 

She was also a pivotal member of the Sister Keys Conservancy, a group that was instrumental in saving the islands from development. Sanders and her late husband, Jack, an accomplished sculptor and photographer, moved in 1976 to Longboat Key from Chicago. She has been a stalwart aide for Mote Marine, leading its volunteer program for decades. She received a “Point of Light” award from President George H. Bush for her service to Mote.

Her other passions include the Longboat Key Turtle Watch and the Longboat Key Garden Club as an advocate for the environment. I interviewed a couple of Sanders’ close friends, including Barbara Kerwin and former Mayor Ron Johnson.

Kerwin, an active longtime member of the Garden Club responded, “What immediately comes to mind is her wonderful sense of humor, infectious laugh and always positive attitude.

 “I first came to know Virginia when I joined the Garden Club in 1992. Dutch Arends was president, and Virginia, along with Penny Rosenthal, was an extremely involved member.

“Virginia was recruited by Kit Fernald for the Turtle Watch and became the conservation chairman of the Garden Club. She always promoted a strong environmental direction for the club. From 1994 to 1996, Sanders and Rosenthal were co-presidents of the Garden Club, and I was asked to come on the board as the membership chair. The two ladies shared their responsibilities, and Sanders focused on the environment.

“Sanders continued as president for one more year, strongly supporting and promoting Minnesota 88, the primary environmental organization serving both counties, and pointed out the hazards of unregulated phosphate mining. 

“Sometime in the late ’90s, the club decided to support students studying environmentally related subjects. 
“Sanders, an educator, was in great support of awarding a scholarship to Florida College students at the junior and senior level. This committee now awards two or three scholarships each year totaling $10,000. Sanders has also served as the chair of Arbor Day and established a grants program awarding money to local non-profit environmental organizations. Personally, John and I have enjoyed a very close and personal relationship with Sanders and her late husband, Jack.” 

Johnson spoke of Virginia in glowing terms.

“Virginia has always been one of the loves of my life,” says Johnson. “I started volunteering for Mote 17 years ago, and Virginia was already there as the program chair. When I became chairman of the volunteers, she was my right hand. She was consumed by the job; she was very detailed and we became fast friends. As an artist, she was one of my favorite sketchers. She illustrated a book for Mote, and just last week she met the famous marine artist Wyland at Mote and the two autographed their respective books for each other.”

Sanders insists that people have given more to her than she could ever give back and that she’s a happier person because of her community involvement.

She blew out all her candles on her cake in one single breath.

“I’ve been practicing,” she says.

She told people not to bring her gifts for her birthday, but of course guests didn’t follow her wish.

Sanders received an orchid and a bouquet of flowers, among other things. Fittingly, a friend also had a Redwood tree in California dedicated in Sanders’ honors.

“I’m a tree hugger from way back,” she says.


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