2021 Public Servant of the Year: Charles Sanders

Growing up on his family’s farm in Southold, Ray Terry knew at an early age what service in the military looked like. And what its risks were. After all, his older brother Gilbert had enlisted in the U.S. military as World War II raged and did not come home.

In 1944, a telegram arrived at the Terry home, informing Gilbert’s parents that their oldest son was missing in action. His B-17, returning from a night bombing run over Germany, had crashed into the North Sea. Only one crew member had been rescued.

Still, Mr. Terry enlisted in the U.S. Army and fought in the Korean War. Fortunate enough to return to Southold, he sought a place of comfort and belonging for himself among fellow veterans who had experienced war and in 1954 he joined the American Legion Post on Main Road in Southold, a quarter mile east of the family farm.

“It has been home all this time since then,” said Mr. Terry, 91. “It’s been a refuge, and I am grateful, as we are all grateful, that it is still there and functioning unlike other Legion posts around the country that have closed.”

“He’s involved with everything.”

Robert Scott

Griswold-Terry-Glover Post 803 sits in a grand old home on the bend in Main Road. In front of it is a monument to the Southold men who enlisted and fought in the Civil War. While many American Legion posts have suffered from dwindling memberships, including Burton Potter Post 185 in Greenport, Griswold-Terry-Glover Post 803 is thriving. 

Interviews with some of its members, including Mr. Terry, shows that much of the credit for the Post’s success as a welcoming home to veterans that is also deeply involved in the community goes to its commander, Charles Sanders.

For this reason, Mr. Sanders, a U.S. Marine veteran and a member of the New York Army National Guard, is The Suffolk Times’ Public Servant of the Year for 2021.

Mr. Sanders served in the Marine Corps Reserve as an enlisted corporal from 1991 to 1998 and has been a member of the New York Army National Guard from 2008 to the present. Among his deployments are 2010 and 2012 in Afghanistan.

Charles Sanders, left, and Chad Lennon with other participants in a walk to raise awareness of veteran suicide. Credit: Steve Wick

Robert Scott, the retired former owner of a jewelry store in Southold, has been a member of the Post for 13 years and has seen its up and downs. “Sometimes back in the days when I was working I’d stop by on a Friday night and maybe there’d three or five guys inside,” he said. “That’s no longer the case.”

“Now, people show up and help,” he said. Like the others interviewed for this story, Mr. Scott pins the success on Mr. Sanders. 

“If you tried to follow Charles, you’d give up and never get it done,” he said. “I don’t know how he does it, but he does it. He’s involved with everything.”

Nearly every national holiday — particularly Memorial Day and Veterans Day — the post is crowded for celebrations that include both Post members but also high school ROTC members and people from the community. Among Mr. Sanders’ most critical missions, members say, is remembering the sacrifices of generations of veterans. He recently organized a walk from Southold to Calverton to bring attention to the issue of veterans’ suicides. 

At lunch time on Tuesdays a popular bingo game is held that is part social event and part fundraiser. Friday nights might see dozens of people inside the Post’s large meeting room listening to a band.

Each month the post sends out a newsletter to members as well as people in the community interested in the Post’s activities. A few years ago, there were approximately 240 names on the mailing list; now there are more than 750.

“He has brought the mission and the excitement back,” Mr. Scott said of Mr. Sanders. “He engages people to get things done, to get involved in the community.”

Assessor Charles Sanders, left, and Kevin Webster, the 2019 Public Servant of the Year, began new terms this week. . (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Mr. Scott is a U.S. Marine veteran who served from 1967 to 1969, including a tour in Vietnam. He pointed out that on Nov. 11, Veterans Day, the Post planted a tree in front of the building that had been grafted from a tree planted at the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan.

The tree planting, Mr. Scott and other members said, showed the Post is alive and well and engaged in the critical business of remembering — our history, as well as those who put their lives at risk serving their country.

Current member and U.S. Army veteran Earl Brock, who was post commander from 2010 to 2016, said, “We have stayed active no matter what. We are constantly trying to do community events and have events at the Post that will bring people from the community inside.”

“Charles knows how to do that,” he said. “The growth and all that we do, that’s Charles’ doing. In terms of American Legions, we are beating the odds. We don’t know how to say no or give up. We want to give back to veterans and the community.”

The Post’s sergeant of arms, Neil Rochford, a U.S. Marines veteran, said he joined five years ago when he was new to the community and didn’t know anyone and sought companionship. 

“My first meeting I was welcomed like a brother,” he said. “I knew this was a good place.”

“I think our success is because of the leadership,” said Mr. Terry, who said he was looking forward to the next bingo game at the Post. “We have a young commander in Charles. He has attracted young people and we have something good going on.”

Previous Winners

2019: Kevin Webster 2018: Rodney Shelby
2017: William Price
2016: Jim Grathwohl
2015: Jack Martilotta
2014: Ted Webb
2013: Heather Lanza
2012: Ed Romaine
2011: Greenport and Southold Highway Department Crews
2010: Leslie Weisman
2009: Betty Neville
2008: Thomas Crowley
2007: Philip Beltz
2006: Jesse Wilson
2005: Martin Flatley
2004: Mattituck-Cutchogue School Board
2003: Ben Orlowski Jr.
2002: Jack Sherwood
2001: Dave Abatelli
2000: Melissa Spiro
1999: Valerie Scopaz
1998: Jamie Mills
1997: Karen McLaughlin
1996: Lisa Israel
1995: John Costello
1994: Ray Jacobs
1993: Judy Terry
1992: William Pell
1991: Beth Wilson
1990: Antonia Booth
1989: Frank Murphy
1988: Venetia McKeighan
1987: Paul Stoutenburgh