This Senior Will Always Be in School: Retirement Communities

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elder male in CCRC with alzheimersNot many people get the opportunity to do what Mr. Herbert J. Saunders is currently doing. He’s recounting the induction ceremony for his middle school, not the one he attended, the one that’s named after him-Saunders Middle School in Prince William County. Mr. Saunders realizes what a rarity this makes him. He acknowledges, “The best part is that they named the school after me while I was still there. I’m so honored and so glad I got to be around to see it. People are normally deceased when something is named after them, but I got to experience this honor!” Such an honor didn’t come easily, though; it was the result of remarkable success and years of dedicated service.

Mr. Saunders grew up in a coal mining camp in West Virginia. His father was a miner and later a mine foreman, who encouraged Herbert to leave home and get an education. “He didn’t want the same lifestyle he had for his children. It was such a hard life, and he knew that. I didn’t want any part of it either, and that was really motivating for me,” recalls Mr. Saunders. The dismal opportunities offered in the coal camps back home helped Herbert to remain focused in school. Quite the athlete, he went to college on an athletic scholarship and earned eight letters in various sports. Later, he was selected for the Lynchburg College Sports Hall of Fame. During college, he met his future wife, Augusta, and they were married at the end of his freshman year.

After graduating, Mr. Saunders and his wife moved to the D.C. Metro area. He got a job teaching in Prince William County, which was the beginning of 40 years of service to the county school system. Before becoming the principal of Garfield High School, Mr. Saunders taught math, science, history, and economics. In order to supplement his income, he also coached football, basketball, and baseball. In fact, he established and coached the first football team in the county.

While working as the Director of Personnel for Prince William County, the school board named Saunders Middle School in his honor. Once he left his position as Director of Personnel, Mr. Saunders never left the school system. He later served as the Director of Superintendent of Schools. After retiring in 1975, he was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to the Prince William School Board for a full term of four years.

Like most life-long educators, Mr. Saunders most enjoyed “seeing how the children grow up and what kind of people they turn out to be.” He attests, “That’s what it’s all about for school teachers!” This explains why Mr. Saunders spent a significant amount of time keeping up with his former students by attending reunions or just stopping to chat whenever he ran into them, which was quite often.

Just a few months ago, Mr. and Mrs. Saunders began to consider their long-term care options, since they both were starting to experience some health problems. Mr. Saunders explains, “My wife had dementia very badly, so we knew it was time to move on to the next stage of our lives, which would involve some level of care. We wanted to move ahead of time instead of waiting, so that we would have a choice of the place. I also have early stage dementia and Parkinson’s disease, so we needed a place where we could move from one level of care to another.”

The couple was careful to make the decision process a family affair: “We had a pow-wow with our two daughters, our daughter’s husband, two of our six great-grandchildren, and my wife and me. We discussed the options, and we decided unanimously to move to Potomac Place.” Potomac Place, a retirement community offering independent and assisted living in Woodbridge, VA, was the couple’s first choice primarily because of its desirable location. “We did not want to leave Prince William County. We’d been here for 63 years, and we wanted to stay. Financially speaking, Potomac Place was very attractive as well. Also, once we came to visit, the administrative was so wonderful; they were all so personable, nice, and courteous. They really made us feel welcome and were so helpful while we were moving,” Mr. Saunders points out.

Since moving, Mr. Saunders has continued to be impressed by the level of service offered by the staff at Potomac Place. He has also really enjoyed meeting other residents and making new friends. While he has remained very independent, he is impressed by all the various social activities offered at the community, including his favorite-ice cream socials.

Mr. Saunders, who until recently has faithfully served several generations of students, has now found the perfect place to relax. For him, what matters most is that some of his former students learn from his example: “I went back and talked with the kids at Saunders Middle School about setting goals and how important that is. Take my own for instance: I wanted to get out of the coal camps, and that led me to do so much. You have to keep setting goals. I just hope that I have inspired some of the kids.” Undoubtedly, Mr. Saunder’s life has helped many of the students at Saunders Middle School to see what is possible with hard work and dedication. There is no doubt that his legacy will live on, not only in the sign in front of his middle school but also in the hearts and minds of the thousands of students who spent time in his classrooms. Mr. Saunders is one senior who will certainly always be in school.

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