Don Sanders planted seeds of great impact

Published 12:34 am Sunday, August 5, 2018

The late Don Sanders might agree that we’re all farmers and our purpose in life is to help plant and care for the seeds we’re given.

The fruits of his seeds continue to grow daily in and around Birmingham, Ala., and his name was just emblazoned on a building so all could remember his plantings.

Donald Wayne “Don” Sanders was a Natchez native born in 1946 — just one year after World War II ended. He grew up in Natchez and eventually graduated from Ole Miss, but he was much more than just a guy from Natchez.

Don was a U.S. Navy veteran who served as an active duty medic during U.S. Marine Corps maneuvers in the Vietnam War. He planted seeds in his work there, tending to the wounded.

While at Ole Miss, he was an athletic trainer. After graduating from Ole Miss, Don served as a trainer for Georgetown University and later the Washington Redskins in the National Football League. He cared for seeds there as he helped injured players.

For most of us such a string of accomplishments would be enough to call a successful career. Working in the NFL, at any level, is the stuff of many a dream.

But Don went back to school and become a certified nurse anesthetist in the late 1970s, working at Montclair Hospital in Birmingham, Ala.

He worked in that field for more than three decades planting seeds all along the way before being forced into retirement by a mishap that caused a physical disability.

But the master gardener, the one upstairs, had bigger plans for him. God took what would certainly have been a frustrating time — being forced into retirement — and made something great.

Don began realizing how rewarding it was to be a gardener of men.  He began sharing and preaching the Gospel to homeless people in Birmingham.

Eventually that work led him to a place that would become almost a second home for him — the Foundry Farm in Cullman, Ala.

The farm is part of The Foundry Ministries, a Christian ministry in Alabama that aims to give hope to people who often may think of themselves as hopeless, castaway seeds if you will. These are addicts, ex-inmates and the destitute.

For Don it was a place to plant seeds, literal and spiritual.

The Foundry Farm is a rural oasis for people working to recover from addictions. Don volunteered there to help plant and maintain vegetable gardens at the farm.

There in the rows of vegetables as he worked, he helped foster spiritual seeds in the lives and hearts of those who came to the facility seeking hope and a way out. They were fortunate they found a caring heart, an attentive ear and a great gardener of people in Don Sanders. He worked with others to raise much-needed funds to expand the farm’s dormitory so more people in need of recovery could stay there.

Don’s volunteer work continued until his death in November 2015.

A couple of months ago, the ministry dedicated a new dormitory to the memory of two volunteers, Don Sanders and Andy Black.

Foundry CEO Mike Andrews said at the dedication ceremony that the two men were unique.

“They had big personalities, bigger than this dorm could handle … but they infected everybody that they knew with their hopes,” Andrews said, a local newspaper reported.

For years to come now men in need of help and recovery will walk into their new home under a sign honoring a Natchez son, who simply did what he thought was best; he planted seeds.

Sanders gave us all a great example that even late in life, you can still make a huge impact on the people around you if you give them a little water, a little sunshine and a lot of love.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.