Charlie Saunders spent 30 years feeding his family, and others, as a butcher for A&P, the supermarket chain. It started when he and his wife, Myrtle, and their family — which grew to five children — lived in the Philadelphia suburb of East Lansdowne, Pa. And Charlie kept cutting meat, heading back to Pennsylvania when the family moved to Avalon in 1970.
He retired after a couple of years of that long commute, and worked a few new jobs, including as a police dispatcher in Avalon. But Charlie’s favorite job ever was one he never got paid a dime for — even though he worked at it almost every day for 25 years.
He was a volunteer at Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Cape May, starting in 1985 and staying until the school closed in 2010. He still missed the school until he died last month, at 87.
That no-pay job started after Charlie and Myrtle moved to Cape May. She helped at the school first, but after a year, she moved over to volunteer at the parish office. Then Charlie started, and stayed.
The location was easy: Charlie and Myrtle lived in Victorian Towers, the senior high-rise just a short walk from the school. Plus there was a family link — four of the nine Saunders grandchildren went to the school, so Charlie got to see them basically every day.
Then again, he got to see most students every day, because one of his favorite duties was opening the front door for every kid coming in — and giving each one a high five as he did.
“He was better than the mailman,” says Paul Bogle, of Cape May, who had two kids at the school. “It would be snowing, raining, but he was always there, holding the door open.”
Still, one granddaughter who went to the school, Rebecca Hand, emphasizes that Charlie was much more than a doorman.
“He did everything,” Hand wrote, detailing duties that included “teacher’s aide, basic-skills teacher ... maintenance man, computer technician, coach, lunch-maker, recess-duty monitor, mentor and disciplinarian.”
And he stayed for years after his grandchildren graduated. Kim Moore, Charlie and Myrtle’s middle child, and the mother of those Star of the Sea grads, says that when Myrtle died in 2008, the family got together to talk about assisted living for Charlie. He vetoed the idea.
“He said, ‘I need to volunteer at the school, and stay in the apartment,’” Moore recalls.
For most of his volunteer career, one of Charlie’s steady duties was being an aide in Maria Gallagher’s second-grade class.
“Unless he couldn’t move or couldn’t walk, he was there,” says Gallagher, of Middle Township. “He was dedicated. ... He was part of our lives and we were part of his. And I think that’s what kept him going all that time.”
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