Tom Braaten set the tone for last week’s celebration honoring former Havelock mayor Jimmy Sanders.
Braaten, a retired Marine Corps commanding general at Cherry Point, pointed out that Sanders had served in the Air Force.
“Everybody’s entitled to one mistake, and that was his,” Braaten joked.
And, so began an endless slew of stories and jokes about Sanders, from the time he burned down a dugout when he tried to dry a wet softball field by setting it on fire to his work at Fleet Readiness Center East — or lack thereof, according to co-worker Bruce Styron.
“People would always ask how Jimmy made his money, and he had a job on base. I know because I’m the guy who did all of his work,” Styron joked.
But between the jokes, there was recognition for Sanders’ service to the Havelock Fire and Rescue Department, to youth sports, to the Eastern Carolina Aviation Heritage Foundation, and of course, to the city as a Havelock commissioner and mayor.
“I know a lot of people who love Havelock,” Styron said. “But no one loves Havelock like Jimmy Sanders.”
After all the accolades and jokes, Sanders had an opportunity to address the large crowd. He mentioned that it seemed odd to attend an event that celebrated his life, a life he said he hoped wasn’t ending anytime soon.
“Maybe you people know something I don’t,” Sanders joked. “I hope you’re wrong.”
The Havelock Chamber of Commerce put on the event at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center. Sanders called the gathering a humbling experience.
“Being here, this is not something I ever would have done, but don’t think it’s not appreciated,” he said.
Sanders then began to thank many in the audience, including city workers and staff.
“It is humbling to look out and see so many great people who have made such a difference in my life,” he said.
Sanders particularly thanked Commissioner Danny Walsh.
“What am I thankful for about being an elected official all these years? Danny is probably near the top of the list,” he said. “If I had never come back to serve on the board in 2001, I never would have had the opportunity to serve on the board with Danny Walsh, and both of us would have left this life not knowing what good friends we were meant to me.”
He also thanked retiring city manager Jim Freeman.
“I’m going to give you a scoop: Sometimes, six elected officials don’t see eye to eye,” Sanders said. “But, Jim was great at keeping the waters calm, and I appreciate it and I appreciate everything he has done for the city of Havelock.”
He also thanked his family for years of support.
“I think family, they are the ones who have to put up the most with us being elected officials,” he said. “People will say something to my wife, my niece. They will say something to you that they wouldn’t say to me, and you all have a very special place in my heart.”
He particularly thanked his wife Cherrie, but also couldn’t resist a joke.
“We got married on Friday the 13th. They said it wouldn’t last, and they may be right. I don’t know,” he said. “And, she was from New Bern, bless her heart, but we have converted this child.”
He said he remembered the early days of the fire department, when he worried about purchasing tires for the trucks and not having safety equipment for new firefighters. He also recalled the days when Havelock was incorporated.
“Who would have thought that in 1959 what Havelock would be today?” he said. “None of us. None of us ever dreamed that we would be what we are, and that’s thanks to a lot of you in this room. You wouldn’t take no for an answer. You didn’t ask what the government can do for me. You asked ‘how can I get involved? What can I do to make a difference?’”
Sanders, 66, gave thanks and praise to God, and said he appreciated all the support over the years.
“It has been a good run,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it.”