Order of the Long Leaf Pine presented to former mayor

Former Havelock mayor Jimmy Sanders got a little icing on his birthday cake, and then some.

Sanders received North Carolina’s second highest honor when he received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine at his 70th birthday party on Saturday at Cherry Point United Methodist Church in Havelock.

“I thank y’all,” Sanders told the group celebrating his birthday. “I appreciate it. It means a lot.”

He said the award came as a surprise.

“We’ve had some good times,” he said. “But with the good Lord’s blessing, I’m in pretty good health and hopefully we’ll have a lot more blessings.”

As a recipient, he becomes a member of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society and his name will be included in an ongoing registry.

Sanders was first elected to the Havelock Board of Commissioners in 1979 and was first elected mayor in 2005. He served for eight years until 2013.

In a 2013 speech, Sanders said, “A good citizen is someone who has a positive influence on the community.”

Beyond the work he did as mayor and as a commissioner, Sanders has always been active in the community.

He is the son of one of the city’s first board members. In the 1970s, he served in the Air Force, then returned home where he worked with Little League and joined the Havelock Fire Department, of which he was chief for a time.

He also served as Babe Ruth League assistant state commissioner. He is heavily involved as a volunteer with Cherry Point United Methodist Church and he served as the president of the Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow lobby group, working to support efforts to protect military and civilian jobs on the base.

Sanders’ friend Henry Sermons, who presented him the award, recalled when he and Sanders and his brother Ray Sanders took out a personal loan of $17,000 to purchase a crash truck for the fire department many years back, after the city board rejected the purchase.

He also related how Sanders was a key figure in developing the 50-acre Havelock Recreation Complex during the 1980s.

The Order is the second highest honor a citizen of North Carolina can receive after the North Carolina Award from the state, and is the highest that a governor can award. It is awarded by the governor. According to the Long Leaf Pine Society’s website, it was created in 1963 and “has been presented to honor persons who have a proven record of service to the State of North Carolina or some other special achievement.”

The first order was actually awarded by Gov. Terry Sanford to four Spanish dignitaries. It was given to them by businessman R. Walker Martin during a good will visit to Spain.

While in its first years, the award was given, more often than not, to non-citizens of North Carolina, that has changed over the years.

Since its inception, more than 15,000 men, women, businesses and even animals have received the award.

Among Sanders’ best-known fellow recipients are Charles Kuralt, Jeff Gordon, Danny Glover, Coretta Scot King, Andy Griffith, Oprah Winfrey and Billy Graham.

Nominations for other recipients can be made by going to the governor’s website at governor.nc.gov.