Havelock Mayor Jimmy Sanders has always believed that being a part of the community makes the community better.
In that sense, Sanders — who has served Havelock in various civic, church and volunteer efforts over the last 40 years and in city government for 29 years — has had a hand in making Havelock a pretty good community.
“A good citizen is someone who has a positive influence in the community,” Sanders said.
Sanders’ eight years as mayor of the city he loves ends today when Will Lewis is officially sworn in to the city’s top post after November’s election.
Sanders, 66, the son of one of Havelock’s first town board members, returned to the city after serving in the Air Force in the 1970s. He immediately began to volunteer with the Havelock Little League.
“He put a lot of time and a lot of effort into it,” said fellow league volunteer Doug Franks. “He held several offices and he was a manager and he had real good times and he was real hard to beat.
“I think he was very patient and he did a good job with his parents and with his ball teams. He put an awful lot of time and effort into it and he did a good job in both of the leagues, Little League and Babe Ruth. He’s been totally committed to them.”
Henry Sermons worked with Sanders for Havelock Babe Ruth.
“He’s a good man,” Sermons said. “The thing about Jimmy is you know where you stand. There ain’t no twilight zone. It’s black and white. And you’ve got to respect a person like that. He’s a true friend.”
Sanders and Sermons go way back, to days when they attended the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament together.
“The only real, real problem I’ve ever had with Jimmy, in the 40 or 50 years we’ve known one another, is he’s a damn diehard State fan and he hates Carolina,” Sermons joked.
Sanders has long stopped managing Babe Ruth baseball teams, but he still acts as a Babe Ruth assistant state commissioner.
“I’m a little old to be out there keeping up with 15-year-old kids, but they need me for programs,” Sanders said. “I still see people out there who played ball for me, and they are out there with their children and in some cases with their grandchildren. It’s a great feeling.”
Sermons said Sanders put Havelock first, even when it meant the two of them and brother Ray Sanders took a loan out themselves to purchase a crash truck for the fire department after the city board rejected the purchase.
“Jimmy, Ray and I said well, ‘we need it,’ so the three of us went to the bank and borrowed the money and bought the truck and delivered it to the fire department,” Sermons said. “Everybody thought it was great, and that’s why we started having the Old Fashioned Fourth, to raise money, and we did and paid the loan off.”
For Sanders, it was typical of his passion for the city.
“What’s not to love about Havelock? It is a great place,” he said. “We’re so blessed. We’re in Eastern North Carolina, which I think is a great place to live. We’re close to the beaches, but we’re not on the beach. We have low crime. We have good schools. We have great programs for kids. We have good churches and good folks. We’re a community that accepts everybody. We are an inclusive community. If you want to come to Havelock, we’re not going to ask one question about who you were before you got here. All we really care about is who you are from this day forward.”
Richard Rice served with Sanders on the Havelock Board of Commissioners.
“From the time he has been on the rescue squad, he, his father, his brother, started it and worked hard on it,” Rice said. “He’s been very active for the city of Havelock. I don’t know how you replace him today because I don’t know anybody else that comes close to him. He’s been very interested in the city and worked hard for the city in every way that I can think of. On the board, he was very dedicated, hard-working and sincere. He and I didn’t always agree. Everything that he’s ever done has been for the good of Havelock.”
Havelock Commissioner Danny Walsh has served while Sanders has been mayor for the last eight years. But it’s not the politics that Walsh admires most. He recalls the days when Sanders and his wife Cherrie worked together on the fire and rescue department.
“He and his wife rode the ambulance every night. They put out the fires at your homes. They carried your family to the hospital or from car wrecks to the hospital,” Walsh said. “ … To go to all those wrecks has got to take a toll on a person. Jimmy and his wife did that very night. The things that he did out of politics, to me, are what make the man who he is.”
Sanders served as a city commissioner or as mayor for 29 years. Even though that time is ending, he’ll still be involved with the city as president of the Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow lobby group.
Still, he’ll have a little more free time and plans on some trips with Cherrie, but Havelock will always be home.
“We’re Havelock people and the bulk of our time is going to be spent in Havelock,” he said. “This is my home. This is where I live.”
He looks forward to time with his grandchildren.
“All I’m trying to do is make sure they have great memories,” he said. “When they think of their granddaddy, I want it to be nothing but fun. I have great memories of all the fun I had with my grandparents and I just want to leave those same memories with my grandkids.”
Sanders said being a part of the development of the 50-acre Havelock Recreation Complex during the 1980s was one of his greatest achievements as a city leader.
“It makes me feel good. To me, these are the things that local government should be doing,” he said. “These are the important things. These are the things that will make a difference in the community and in a kid’s life. If we don’t provide the kids something to do, the kids will find something to do and often it’s not something that we might want them to do.”
He’s learned that the most important thing as a city leader is never to give up.
“If it’s a worthy cause, then it’s worthy of your effort, no matter how long it takes,” Sanders said.
And the worthy cause he’s been thoroughly behind is protection of Cherry Point.
“Cherry Point is the goose that’s laying the golden egg,” Sanders said. “We are so blessed as a community to have a Cherry Point. Cherry Point is not just 5,000 jobs. It’s 5,000 of the best jobs in Eastern North Carolina. Cherry Point is an irreplaceable national asset. The patriotism and dedication of those employees is second to none. As a community, we have to protect Cherry Point because of its economic impact.”
Sanders said he could not have been a part of such great things in Havelock without the support he has received from the people. “I think I have served the people well,” he said. “I thank Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the center of my life, and I thank Him for allowing me to have this opportunity.”