Resident Spotlight: Leon & Marilyn Sanderson

The Sandersons


Love and giving go together so well. So do Marilyn and Leon Sanderson, who have plenty of love to share and express it in so many ways. Their lives have been focused on giving to others: Leon as a minister in various churches of Christ, and Marilyn as an esteemed educator of the young. Both continue to share their many talents with the residents of Kirby Pines and contribute to the sense of family we all cherish.

Marilyn Cobb was born in Springfield, Missouri. Hers was a close-knit family who enjoyed simple but significant times together. She has a sister who is older, so Marilyn was “the baby” for 11 years until a baby brother came along. According to Marilyn, “I lost my status, and our family dynamics changed.” As a member of Future Teachers of America, Marilyn would have the experience, in her senior year of high school, of spending the afternoon in an elementary school as a cadet teacher. This would provide the groundwork for Marilyn’s professional career.

In 1966, Marilyn graduated from Harding College (University) with a B.S in Elementary Education. She says her college years were very enjoyable, but most exciting was the time she spent singing with two elite groups of singers from the college. During her junior year, one group spent five weeks traveling in the Eastern part of the United States which included singing at the World’s Fair in New York. 

In 1966, Marilyn began her teaching career in Long Island, New York. It was a different culture for her, but she enjoyed the nearby cultural venues. During this time, she and a friend spent eight weeks in Europe, traveling by Eurail and staying in pensiones.

In 1969, Marilyn returned to Harding College and earned an M.A. in Teaching. She moved to Memphis to teach in the city schools and was assigned to teach fourth grade in a school with all African American students. “This was again culture shock,” admits Marilyn, “but that class became one of my all-time favorites!” However, after one year, she was persuaded to teach at Harding Academy, one of the largest private schools in Memphis. She remained there for 39 years, as classroom teacher, principal, and eventually as Director of Elementary Education for Harding Academy.

Leon Sanderson was also born in Springfield, Missouri. His only sibling was an older sister. His father and mother were involved in church work over the years. Leon’s families were musicians; his father wrote the words to several published hymns. So, music was a large part of their family. At a young age, Leon joined his father in teaching in music schools and worship leadership.

Despite occasional re-locating, Leon had a happy childhood. He recalls playing kick ball, riding his bike, playing “catch,” and making model cars. His favorite was a blue, 1904 model Oldsmobile with seats covered in burgundy velvet – a contribution from his mother. His school years were good, and he sang with all singing groups in school. He also played the tuba in the marching band during his high school years.

Having decided to become a minister of the Gospel, Leon entered Harding College in 1950 and graduated four years later with a degree in Bible and Speech. He continued his studies at Harding, earning a graduate degree in Ministry. He would then move to Memphis for his first position with a church.

Although both Marilyn and Leon were born in the same city and attended the same college, they did not meet until Leon accepted an associate minister position in the church where Marilyn attended. Together, they would become an integral part of that church’s mission to serve not only the church members, but the non-members of the community around them. 

To better prepare himself to serve, Leon became a life-long learner. Since moving to Memphis, he has earned two additional masters degrees and the Doctorate of Ministry from Harding School of Theology. He has the distinction of earning the most degrees of any student in the school’s history! He has used his musical talents in various ways, leading singing as well as teaching others to lead songs in church. He has written several hymns with special attention to setting scripture to music. Blessed with a beautiful voice, Leon sang for several years with an elite musical group in Memphis.

The Sandersons wedding
Wedding Day

The Sandersons have three children, nine grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. Twice a year, at Thanksgiving and in June, 22 family members meet for a reunion – a 25 year tradition. Travel continues to be a significant activity for the Sandersons. They have visited all 50 states; Leon has been to 33 foreign countries and six continents, and Marilyn has visited 40 countries and five continents. 

Since moving to Kirby Pines in September 2021, both Leon and Marilyn have become vital members of the Kirby family. Marilyn enjoys The Bookbaggers and Mah Jongg. Both serve as Wing Leaders, sing in the Chorus, visit residents in the hospital, and attend various Bible studies. Leon participates in Vespers, conducts sing-a-longs, and reads the Bible to residents in the health areas on a regular basis. Both are members of Germantown Church of Christ where Leon serves as a Worship Leader. 

The Sandersons say that they are very happy in this loving, family atmosphere of Kirby Pines, and getting to participate in the myriad of activities. Both admit, “We think we made a good decision to come here!

Written by Joan Dodson, Resident of Kirby Pines.