Deen Day Sanders has been planting seeds her entire life. She has supported the State Botanical Garden of Georgia since its establishment 50 years ago.
Sanders’ love for gardening first took root in the small town of Adrian, Georgia, where she planted flowers with her grandmother as a young girl. She knew early on which flowers would attract butterflies. She knew how to shake out seeds from petunias. She recognized which plants were most fragrant and which ones provided the best visuals in landscape design. For her, gardening came almost as naturally as breathing.
As she grew up, she began volunteering, joining the first garden club in 1959 and organizing a neighborhood garden club in 1961.
The State Botanical Garden of Georgia was established in 1968, largely due to the efforts of garden club members and the Garden Club of Georgia (GCG). Sanders was president of GCG from 1987 to 1989, president of National Garden Clubs, Inc. from 1999 to 2001, and vice president of World Association of Floral Artists from 2008 to 2011.
Sanders will be recognized on May 5 during a 50th Anniversary Celebration at the State Botanical Garden’s annual fundraiser, the Gardens of the World Ball. She and Mark Callaway, another longtime supporter of the State Botanical Garden, are serving as co-chairs for the event. Sanders will be escorted by her husband, Jim Sanders, whom she married in 2002.
A driven philanthropist and lifelong learner, she remained committed to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, and provided support for the garden’s plants, trails and facilities.
“Deen stands out as one of our most generous and steadfast supporters,” says Jenny Cruse-Sanders, director of the State Botanical Garden. “When I first met her, we had conversations about what inspires her. What impressed me so much was her love of gardens, her love of art. It seems to come from a deep understanding and appreciation of nature and the beauty she sees in nature.”
“Deen has always been interested in beauty and nature, and she wants to play a part in making things better for future generations,” says Tom Wight, a charter member of the State Botanical Garden’s board of advisors, who has known Sanders his whole life. “Deen leads by example. She leads quietly and supports the things she believes in, both with her influence and financial support.”
Sanders helped develop plans for the Cecil B. Day Chapel, which was named for her late husband. It is a tranquil venue in the woods, used for weddings, receptions, memorial services, and acoustic music performances. Nestled in the overhang of trees, the chapel has an awe-inspiring cypress interior and meticulous wood carvings of delicate vines, leaves and blossoms.
“Gardens offer fulfillment and peace,” Sanders says. “How better are we going to help the next generation understand the importance of plants, if not through gardens?”
Sanders suggested the idea for an accessibility path to the State Botanical Garden’s Shade and Native Flora Gardens, in memory of her late son, Burke Day.
“The path was very much needed, and I don’t know who would have thought of it except Deen,” says Marianne McConnel, a member of the garden’s first board of advisors.
Her philanthropy has been recognized throughout the state. Former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson named October 12, 1992 in her honor. She was given the key to the City of Statesboro, Georgia, which annually celebrates a Service to Mankind Award’s Program in her name.
She received the 1987 Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson Award, presented by her friend and former first lady, “Lady Bird” Johnson, in recognition of her contributions to Keep America Beautiful. A cause dear to Sanders’ heart, Keep America Beautiful is an organization dedicated to beautification and litter prevention.
“Volunteering is a life-enriching experience,” Sanders says. “Volunteerism is so needed.”
She is looking forward to upcoming events and new exhibits at the State Botanical Garden, such as the opening of the Alice H. Richards Children’s Garden. Scheduled for completion by early 2019, the children’s garden will provide a space for hands-on, educational activities emphasizing the importance of nature, healthy food and healthy bodies.
“Just like when my grandmother introduced something that would inspire me all of my life, I hope the children’s garden shows children the importance of plants,” Sanders says.
Former State Botanical Garden Director Jeff Lewis, who has known Sanders for 30 years, calls her a good example of how one might ideally live. “She’s not out seeking applause and recognition,” he says. “She’s doing things that will benefit the people of Georgia in a lasting way.”
Writer: Leah Moss, firstname.lastname@example.org, 706-583-0964
Contact: Jenny Cruse-Sanders, email@example.com, 706-542-6131