Some people have a gift for recognizing a need.
If you were around Gene Sanders, it happened all the time.
Like when he visited Samaritan Evergreen Hospice House in Albany, where his daughter Sarah Smith is a certified hospice and palliative nurse and his wife volunteers.
Gene Sanders was an Army veteran who served 42 years active duty and as a civilian. He noticed the service flags on some of the doors to the inpatient rooms.
“Does every veteran get a flag?” Gene Sanders wondered.
At the time, there were not enough. So, Gene Sanders asked his daughter to carry a proposal to hospice leaders to provide flags for every veteran.
The service flags for veterans became a family project, which has been incorporated into the traditions at the hospice house. When a person dies, staff do a walk out with family to honor their loved one. If they are a veteran, the service flag is placed over the body and given to the family.
When Gene Sanders died in April 2022, his family decided to continue the flag program as part of his legacy of service.
“He always wanted to help fellow veterans,” Sarah Smith said. “He took it upon himself to help others.”
Dianne Sanders recalled how her husband used to invoke a higher power when he pitched his philanthropic ideas. It was a tactic she couldn’t refuse.
“He would come to me and say, ‘I think God’s telling me that we need to give this car to such and such person,’” Dianne Sanders said. “How do you argue with God?”
They could sell a vehicle and get a little money. But Gene Sanders always had someone in mind who could use their old car more.
Gene Sanders served three tours in Vietnam, where he was part of the military police, earning a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievement. He started out as an Army cook.
“He loved to cook,” Dianne Sanders said.
During his military career, the family lived in Georgia, where Gene Sanders and a team from his church regularly cooked meals at a homeless shelter, feeding as many as 300 people at a time.
“What we cook needs to be like something we would eat,” Gene Sanders declared.
He bought all the meat for the chili, spaghetti and other dishes he prepared at the shelter for more than five years.
When he was called to serve in South Korea, he went ahead to get things ready for his family’s arrival.
“He had everything all put together, including our rooms,” Smith recalled. “He tried to give us some familiarity and normalcy.”
She thinks that’s why it mattered to him that every veteran receives a service flag.
“He wanted to make sure veterans were not forgotten,” Smith said.
His passion and integrity also inspired her career.
“He found ways to serve others in all that he did,” Smith said. “Being a nurse is how I am able to serve others.”
Service flags for veterans at Samaritan Evergreen Hospice are donated by the family of Gene Sanders. Contributions can be made to the Hospice Fund through the Albany General Hospital Foundation at samhealth.org/Giving.