The Atlanta Speech School in Buckhead is mourning the loss of Jerry Sanders, its first graduate and unofficial ambassador.
The 88-year-old Hapeville resident died Jan. 20. At an early age, he was determined to be deaf by his paternal grandmother, his online obituary stated. When he was 5, he was the first student of Katherine “Kitty” Hamm, who went on to start the Junior League School for Speech Correction, which years later became the Atlanta Speech School.
Hamm, a Charleston, South Carolina, native, pursued her teaching certificate from St. Louis’ Central Institute for the Deaf to better teach her own son Benjamin, who was deaf. After moving to Atlanta and being shocked by the fact that other deaf children whose families couldn’t afford specialized education because they didn’t have her family’s wealth, she committed herself to opening a school that would provide those services for free.
“Knowing that her newly acquired skills positioned her to do something about it, she decided to tutor a single student, Jerry Sanders, to test her ability to teach others,” Comer Yates, the school’s executive director, wrote in an email to its parents and supporters announcing Sanders’ death. “She worked with Jerry at Central Presbyterian Church, to which his mother rode with him on streetcar each day. He was a willing and enthusiastic pupil.”
After graduating from the school, Sanders became the first deaf student to graduate from Atlanta’s now-defunct Roosevelt High School and is believed to be the first deaf student to graduate high school in the Atlanta Public Schools district. He then attended Massey Business School and had a 30-year career with the U.S. Department of Defense.
Sanders started dating his future wife, Frances Jane Cox, in 1957 after they met at the Atlanta Deaf Club, and they were married later that year. Before getting married, they were founding charter members of Crusselle-Freeman Church of the Deaf. Later, Sanders helped lead the renovation of the original church building and recruited Frank Leathers to lead the construction of the new church building, among other contributions.
Yates wrote that Sanders returned to the school many times over the years, “greeting each person he passed and signing ‘I love you’ to generations of Katherine Hamm Center children.”
“He radiated that same energy, enthusiasm and pride for the school he had as a student so many years before,” he wrote. “Adults and children alike were drawn to him each time he came on campus – each visit was like a movie star, or super hero, had entered the school.”
Sanders also enjoyed antique cars and even restored a 1933 Chevrolet Master Eagle Sedan.
“Jerry was also a great kidder, loved to tell jokes and see people laugh,” his obituary stated. “And much to the embarrassment of his son (Jay), insisted on showing pretty young women the “ILY” (love ya) sign at every restaurant they visited.”
In addition to his wife and son, Sanders is survived by his sister, Anita Greiner, and several nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the ALS Association, Georgia chapter, 5881 Glenridge Drive, Suite 200, Sandy Springs, GA 30328, or online at www.alsaga.org, or the charity of your choice. His body was laid to rest at Forrest Hills Memorial Gardens in Forest Park.