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Sanders Retires After 50 Years of Serving UNC

He’s a modest man, everyone agrees. So instead of making him talk about himself, his friends, colleagues and students have reflected on the impact the man has had on them.

He has been at the University for almost one quarter of its existence and although he claims that he’s retiring, will he really be able to stay away?

John Sanders, a man who has given over 50 years to the University, retired from the Board of Governors last week, but left behind a reputation and a name for himself with the school, state and community.

Although he was one of eight members retiring last Friday, it was clear that there was something unique happening, said former Association of Student Governments President Jeff Nieman.

“John exemplifies what we hope there would more of on the board,” Nieman said.

There were several former student leaders at Friday’s meeting – representing the hundreds of students who could not be there, but to whom Sanders was a mentor, friend, parent and advisor.

Nieman added that Sanders brought cogent thoughts, an understanding of history and the deepest love for the school to the BOG.

At his final board meeting, members approved a resolution recognizing and honoring Sanders’ service on the board and commitment to the University and the state.

“The award is a clear manifestation of the respect and affection that he has with the state,” former UNC-system President Bill Friday said.

Besides his most recent award, Sanders has a string of accomplishments to his name, but will best be remembered by those who worked with him as the man who captured the admiration and respect of so many students.

Lee Conner, former Graduate and Professional Student Federation president, said Sanders always made an effort to reach out to student leaders as a friend and an advisor.

“His biggest priority is sitting down and talking with students about the issues of today, the issues of yesterday and the issues of tomorrow,” Conner said.

Sanders was UNC’s Student Body President 1950, graduated from the UNC School of Law and worked for the school’s Institute of Government for 18 years before being elected to the BOG.

In the early 1970s he was a key member in assembling the current UNC system, and his recent participation in last year’s tuition debate demonstrates his continued commitment to the students at this school.

Sanders told The Daily Tar Heel that his experience with the restructuring of 1971 helped him as a member of the BOG.

“I was able to bring to discussions a sense of the history of the university involved in formation of the university in its present structure,” Sanders said.

It is this historical grounding that will most be missed, BOG member Hiram Grainger said.

“The loss of Sanders is a big loss of the history of the university and the board,” Grainger said.

Sanders may best be remembered by some as the students’ best friend during the February 2000 tuition increase debate.

Sanders seconded Nieman’s motion to consider a more modest plan for the tuition increase than the Board of Trustee’s original plan.

Although the BOT’s plan was eventually approved by the BOG – in the closest vote in its history – Sanders was there to publically support the students at the forum. He also privately supported them for the six months leading up to the debate, Conner said.

Although the BOG did not always support Sanders, as in the case of the tuition debate, his participation and forthrightness on the board was always helpful in making decisions, BOG member William Burns Jr. said.

“I knew his reputation and name before I knew him,” Burns said. “By and large, he was positive and very helpful to me. He was the there for the initial stages of the BOG and knew all the facts and figures.”

Although he is retiring from the BOG, he is the kind of public servant who never rests and is always thinking about the good of the state, Friday said.

Sanders will continue his good works as an architect for the state’s plans to take care of senior citizens. And he feels the University is in good hands.

“The University is strong,” he said. “It’s well-staffed and I think it will continue to serve the state efficiently and well.”

“Without a doubt,” Friday said, “he is one of the finest public servants this state has seen for at least two and a half decades.”

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