“I was smitten with the absolute revelation of looking through a microscope and the wonder of medical discovery,” she states, “and the avenue for providing a doctor with the data for a diagnosis.”
Sanders graduated from Central Union High in 1960 and attended Imperial Valley College to fulfill the basic requirements for college. Then in a brash and independent move, she went to Minneapolis, MN where she majored in chemistry and minored in mathematics at the College of Medical Technology, a branch of the University of Minnesota.
She loved the atmosphere of college life and laughingly confesses that “the cold was more of a shock than the culture.”
Completing her degree in Medical Technology took two years. She never made the expensive trip home to visit; instead, she remained at school taking summer terms and spending the holidays alone.
College cost more than she or her parents ever dreamed, and she nearly quit after the first quarter. Thankfully, the dean of women gave her the alternative of living with a local well-to-do family, and she was able to cut back her costs by babysitting for them.
The family, of Jewish descent, was more than hospitable, Sanders remembers. They embraced her, allowing her to bring in girlfriends from school for slumber parties and loaning her heavy coats and shoes that helped her make it through the frigid winters without incurring debt.
Although they never celebrated the Christian holidays of Christmas or Easter, they encouraged her to follow her traditions while also sharing theirs.
“I truly believe God placed me there,” she says.
It was a time of cultural and ethnic awakening for the young black woman with a small-town background. At school, she befriended students from all over, including the Sudan and Egypt, and learned about their Islamic faith.
“I was like a sponge. I wanted to know everything I could know,” she says.
One day, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at her church about joining in his historic March on Washington planned for the next year. Although she did not attend the march, Sanders recalls donating a small amount of cash for the cause.
Her memories of hearing the Nobel Peace Prize recipient speak in addition to personal stories from the Holocaust survivors within her Jewish host family are recollections she continues to share with her grandsons.
“I had firsthand accounts of all those atrocities and some of the world’s ugliness that occurred,” she says. She tells them, “It was not a documentary; it was live and in living color!”
That variety of cross cultures and religions was in stark contrast to what she observed in her hometown. When Sanders returned from college, it was prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and she was not allowed to rent an apartment on the west side of El Centro that would have eased her commute to work.
“I can reach back and touch vivid memories of that time period,” she remarks. And yet, the experiences of the larger city remained with her and gave her a foundation for co-existence with people of all faiths and ethnicities — a foundation that has served her well at work and in the political service arena.
When she returned from college, her father gave her some of this stern, down-home advice. “All right young lady,” he told her. “You have an education, now use it to help others – do not stand back and gloat in yourself.”
Coming home from Minneapolis, she found Albert Sanders patiently waiting for her return. They married in June 1963 and just celebrated their 47th anniversary. They have two sons and six grandsons, some of whom they have raised in the same family home where their sons grew up.
Her first job was with a local woman pathologist, the first of her kind in Imperial Valley, Dr. Irene Chen. After a year, Sanders moved on to work for the Imperial County Health Department where she stayed for 38 years, progressing from laboratory technician to administrative analyst to project coordinator.
In 1979, she received an honor that is especially dear to her, the “Outstanding Faithful Service” award from El Centro’s Sweethome Baptist Church, from her church family in recognition of her service. From 1980 to 1984, she represented both San Diego and Imperial County as a Babe Ruth Baseball commissioner.
She entered the local political scene in 1982 when she was appointed to the board of El Centro Community Hospital, now known as El Centro Regional Medical Center, by the late Tony Beltran. In August 1984, she was appointed to fill the El Centro City Council seat of Ron Hull who had resigned to work for Imperial Irrigation District.
Cover Story Sedalia Sanders: Small-Town Background ... Diverse Foundation