Taught by her father that a person’s word is his bond, El Centro City Councilwoman Sedalia L. Sanders has spent 38 years drawing upon her life’s experiences to serve her fellow man — experiences she’s culled from a continuum of history spanning racial segregation all the way to the wonders of life-saving modern science and technology.
A native of El Centro, Sanders shares a local connection with her mother, Edith Willis, who was also born and raised in El Centro. Following graduation from Central Union High, Edith earned her credential and spent her career teaching in the El Centro school system until her retirement.
Sanders’ father was Eddie White, a hard-working man of integrity and a strict disciplinarian who regaled his nine children with lively stories of his childhood and journey to the Imperial Valley in a covered wagon in the early 1900s.
One of a set of triplets in which one brother died, White and his twin Freddie were left to make their individual marks as pioneers upon a burgeoning and rapidly growing Imperial Valley.
A cowboy by trade, White learned his skills from the caballeros in the Yuma/Bard area and, at one point, became so fluent in Spanish that he had to relearn English when he returned to Imperial Valley. Throughout their lives, he conversed interchangeably with all his children in English and Spanish, and they affectionately referred to him as “the man who won the West.”
White had three children from a previous marriage when he met and married Edith, and they had six children of their own, including Sanders, making for the perfect blended family of nine.
White’s down-to-earth work ethics and morals united with their mother’s emphasis on education and culture gave their kids the best of both worlds, Sanders notes.
They cut their teeth on venturing out to work in the fields with their dad, and then spent weekends perched on top of corral fences, watching him compete in rodeos held in Pine Valley and Jacumba.
“My mother and father were very unique,” she recalls. “Our blended family felt love, peace and secure. Each one of us was encouraged to blossom individually.”
For family entertainment, they surrounded themselves with books and music. Sanders’ mother, who owned a library card, routinely took them to the library to sit and read for hours among the shelves. After saving for months, they would make a trip to Balboa Park in San Diego where they attended discounted shows with understudy performances of Broadway plays and musicals. Sundays were for church, and they faithfully attended the Edwards Chapel Methodist Church with their mother. It was an upbringing rich in faith, diversity, culture, discipline and education.
“In our household, respect was mutual,” says Sanders. “We laughed together, played together and worked together.”
Throughout school, Sanders frequented Y-Teen Youth dances put on by the local chapter of Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and she played softball, tennis, basketball and competed in archery and swimming at Central Union High School.
In eighth grade she was transferred to Wilson Junior High from Booker T. Washington Elementary School where the Washington students had the distinction of being among the first students involved in desegregating the El Centro school system.
Although she was aware of the historic ramifications of the move, she was already comfortable with integration because of her father’s rodeo and baseball events where everyone would congregate to compete without noting racial lines.
“My father was involved with horses and baseball, and they both transcended socio-economic and ethnic borders. There were different families within our surroundings all the time.”
“My parents always encouraged us to believe we had a God-given right to be where we were,” she says, “and we were not taught to be bitter or resentful of the limitations a biased society attempted to put on us.”
While attending the numerous baseball games in McGee Park where her father coached and umpired, she met her future husband Albert Sanders. Although he wanted to develop a more serious relationship, she was focused on school. She stayed busy attending school functions and banquets where only alums were allowed to attend. Unfortunately, Albert was left out of these school activities.
Occasionally, he would meet her on campus, and they ate lunch together. Over time, their relationship grew stronger.
In high school, she worked part-time jobs for a group of medical doctors washing the glassware and sharpening needles. At that time, Sanders realized the beauty and complexity of the amazing world she could see through a microscope. Recognizing her intellect, the doctors encouraged her to complete her education in the medical field.
Cover Story Sedalia Sanders: Small-Town Background ... Diverse Foundation