Tyler City Councilman Donald Sanders doesn’t waste food or complain if he has to take out the garbage or help put away the dishes.
Growing up, the 59-year-old Sanders said his mom tended to the house and the children while his father worked at Tyler Pipe and farmed, averaging 80 hours a week to keep food on the table.
His father’s death of a heart aneurysm at 63 came when Sanders was just 24.
“The thing I hated, he was to graduate with a high school diploma that year,” Sanders said. “He only had an eighth-grade education, and he had been going to night school to finish it.”
He grew up in the district and plans to grow old there, giving back to the community that helped raise him.
Mayor Barbara Bass said Sanders’ love of his community is what made him an effective leader.
“I think it’s critical,” she said. “They (council members) need to know their specific districts so that each can bring issue to the staff’s attention. Donald has been a good representative for the district, very passionate and very committed.”
After his father’s death, Sanders could never bring himself to leave his old stomping grounds.
“We just pulled together,” he said of those dark, difficult days. “My daddy was a strong-arm father. He would lay down the rules and guidelines that were easy for mama to carry out.”
Sanders, already married, worked hard to try and fill the void left by his hard-working dad.
He took in younger siblings, and when his childhood residence burned a short time later, he took in his mother, eventually building her a new home so she could have a place to call her own.
“My mom and brother and sister lived with me four years,” he said. “I pretty well played the role voluntarily. There was a need. It was Mom and these were my brothers and sisters … I think they still look to me from time to time.”
Sanders said his faith in God and his wife, now retired from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, helped carry him through.
He remains grateful for the support from neighbors and constituents, whom Sanders views as extended family.
“Most I’ve known my whole life,” he said. “They made my job easier.”
Sanders is scheduled Wednesday to pass the torch to his successor, Darryl Bowdre, who secured the seat May 12 following a three-way race with the Rev. Charles Burns and retiree Sarah Coats.
It’s difficult to step down, but signs of his interest and community involvement are evident.
“It looks like a whole new city,” Sanders said of his district. “We’re still improving in that area.”
When Sanders decided to seek political office, he ran on a platform of familiarity and neighbors helping neighbors.
“I will try to be the best team player I can be, with the other leaders of the city, without jeopardizing the constituents I represent,” Sanders said in 2006 as he campaigned. “I would work with the other council members to ensure that (planning project) Tyler 21 looks at all areas of the city and not just some areas in particular. I would be the strong voice that District 2 needs.”
When he first entered office, some of his constituents didn’t have some of the basics, including sewer service.
But fast-forward a few years and there are signs of change: curbs, gutters and updated streets in some areas.
Earl Campbell Parkway is nearing completion. A new fire station is in the works. Parks are revitalized, 140 substandard houses have been demolished and 150 junk cars have been hauled away.
He said he’s most proud of the homes built with federal Community Development Block Grant funding.
Of course Sanders is not single-handedly responsible for these updates, but he tried to keep his district on the radar for new projects, he said.
The soft-spoken Sanders is known for his fierce love of community.
When crime was dragging down his district a few years ago, Sanders — only a few months into his term — didn’t hesitate to act.
He organized a prayer march of about 40 people and marched through the neighborhood accompanied by police, stopping in front of one of two known bootlegging hot spots.
People there leaned on a fence to watch and listen for criticism that never came.
Instead, the marchers bowed their head and prayed.
“We did that twice,” he chuckled. “They eventually moved.”
Though years have passed and crime has improved, people still remember the bold manner in which the councilman listened to their concerns and acted.
Sanders said there’s still much work to be done and he plans to continue the charge for change.
“Yes, I’ll miss it,” he said, “But I’ll still be around.”