Longtime Butler County educator and volunteer dies at 83

Mary Ann Willis-Sanders, of Hamilton, died Feb. 28 at Berkeley Square. She was 83.

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Mary Ann Willis-Sanders, of Hamilton, died Feb. 28 at Berkeley Square. She was 83.

Mary Ann Willis-Sanders was a teacher by trade, but her true vocation was volunteerism.

“She always said, ‘If you see something, try to make it better and get involved,’” said her son, Mark Willis. “And she did.”

Willis-Sanders, whose volunteering stretched across numerous Butler County organizations, died Feb. 28 at Berkeley Square. She was 83.

“She was definitely a busy woman,” her son said. “When her teaching career ended, she started volunteering. That was that generation. It seems they had time to dedicate to volunteering.”

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Willis said his mother also was the leader behind many family gatherings.

“She forced the family to have picnics,” he said. “We now cherish those memories and we hope to carry on those traditions.”

After graduating from Kent State University with a bachelor’s degree in education, she taught for three years in Cincinnati. She then directed her energies to volunteer work.

She created and directed the first daily nursery at a Methodist church in Cincinnati in 1963. When she moved to Hamilton in 1969, in addition to teaching Sunday school for 16 years at the First United Methodist, she directed and wrote the curriculum for the church education program and later served as secretary for its board of trustees.

Two of her most notable accomplishments included founding the Colleagues of Fort Hamilton Hospital in 1982 and working as part of the team to organize DamFest for 10 years.

She was an alumni adviser to Alpha Phi Sorority at Miami University, YWCA board president, United Way board of trustees and chairman of its public relations committee. She led the research and creation of Fort Hamilton Hospital’s thrift shop.

She was the first chairman of Ham-A-Lot, past president of the Butler County Medical Auxiliary, chaired Meals-on-Wheels and doubled the number of drivers and recipients. She was a former board member of the Hamilton Community Foundation, co-chairman of the Hamilton Bicentennial Grand Celebration Weekend, ambassador for the Chamber of Commerce and the first director of the Leadership Hamilton Class I, created and chaired the Hamilton Visitor Tour Guide program, served several years on the New London Hills Board and was the Oyster Reef Ladies Golf Association past president and chairman.

She was a member of Brown’s Run Country Club for more than 25 years.

Among her survivors: Son Mark A. (Kathy) Willis and their children Cameron and Sarah; daughter Susan Willis (Dan) Flahive and their children Nate and Natalie; stepdaughter Jane Sanders (Robert) Minnicks and their children Amara Bennett, Amber Minchey, Autumn Minnicks, Andrew Minnicks, Alex Minnicks; stepson Mark L. (Kathy) Sanders Jr. and their children Tracy A. Sanders Combs, Mark L. Sanders III and stepson Thomas A. (Nancy) Sanders and their children, Thomas A. “T.J.” Sanders Jr., Tyler M. Sanders.

She was preceded in death by her first husband, Dr. Richard Reed Willis, and her second husband, Mark “Mike” Sanders.

A celebration of life will be at 1 p.m. March 20 at the First United Methodist Church, 225 Ludlow Street, Hamilton. Visitation will be from noon until the time of services at the church. Burial will follow in Greenwood Cemetery.

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