Saunders Family Gift Benefits Columbus State Music Program

Columbus, Ga. - At age 18 Gerald Saunders packed his bags and left Lilesville, N.C. for the timberland of Georgia. It was a move that birthed a lifetime of successful business ventures and a lifestyle of quiet philanthropy that helped shape the Columbus State University Foundation and support education, medical technology, music and the arts throughout Columbus.

The latest chapter of this story includes a major gift to Columbus State University from the family of Gerald B. and Charlotte A. Saunders in whose honor the university wing of the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts that houses the CSU Schwob School of Music will be named The Gerald Benjamin and Charlotte Alexander Saunders Center for Music Studies. This facility has more than 120,000-square-feet of floor space.

Gerald Saunders' career began as a bookkeeper for Alexander Brothers Lumber Co., a sawmill in Harris County. Six years later, Saunders was promoted to manager and in 1939 became the company's president. That same year he married Charlotte Alexander, the owner's daughter, and eventually the two acquired the company.

As the sawmill succeeded, the Saunders began to purchase timberland in their own names and by the mid 1950s owned more than 52,000 acres in Alabama and Georgia, eventually becoming one of the largest landholders in the area.

In 1956 they decided to retire from the active timber business and contracted with Georgia Kraft, now Mead Westvaco, to grow and harvest timber on their land. Business success gave the Saunders the ability and the time to serve the community where they lived and the means to invest in the lives of others. From 1935 to 1939, Mr. Saunders served as a Harris County representative in the Georgia state legislature and from 1949 to 1950 was a state senator.

Mr. Saunders was a member of the organizing board of the Columbus College Foundation in 1964 and later served as chairman. His involvement with the college continued and in 1985, he and his wife established an endowed music scholarship fund as part of the college's first capital campaign.

'Mr. Gerald was much more than an observer. He was a private person whose lasting legacy is one of quiet support of education, cultural arts and community projects,' said Columbus State University President Frank Brown. 'He was a quiet, plainspoken man who helped guide the development of this institution. Mr. and Mrs. Saunders supported CSU very generously over the years and the endowments and scholarships they funded didn't receive a lot of publicity. Their generosity and contributions have helped so many.'

Gerald Saunders died in January 2000 and his wife, Charlotte, passed away in September of 2002, but their legacy of support for education and the arts continues. The Saunders' children, Alex Saunders, Nancy Smith, Ben Saunders and Dicky Saunders, have committed to seeing their parents achieve lasting philanthropic recognition through this latest gift to Columbus State University's capital campaign, CSU's 'Investment in People.'

The campaign seeks to raise $80 million to establish a learning environment more advanced than at any institution of similar size. CSU has logged more than $69 million - $59 million in gifts and pledges that will be received over the next five years and $10 million is in deferred gifts, such as wills.

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Contact: Rex Whiddon, (706) 568-5185; E-mail: whiddon_rex@ColumbusState.edu