Freed-Hardeman University’s renovated and expanded Wallace-Gano Dining Hall will be re-named in honor of Professor Emeritus Dr. Elizabeth Saunders, FHU President David R. Shannon announced at the university’s annual benefit dinner. The Dr. Elizabeth Saunders Center will include the cafeteria, the Lion’s Pride Marketplace, student services, bookstore, mail room and the ATPI Center for Digital Innovation, which will initially house four programs: robotics, artificial intelligence, computer engineering and cybersecurity. Funding for the renovation and expansion will be funded by the generosity of John W. and Rosemary K. Brown.
Saunders, who retired from FHU in 2018, taught in the teacher education program for 40 years. She became the first Black graduate of Freed-Hardeman College in 1967 and when she joined the faculty in 1978, she was the first Black member of the faculty.
At Memphis State University, where she completed her baccalaureate degree, Saunders was one of eight Black students who lived on campus. Following her graduation from MSU, she began her teaching career in the Haywood County School System. There she discovered a particular interest in helping students with reading difficulties. To better assist them, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in reading. Saunders continued her education at East Tennessee State University, where she earned her Doctor of Education degree and was the first Black student to complete a doctoral degree there.
Saunders has not restricted her service to Freed-Hardeman. She has been an active member of her local congregation, teaching Bible classes and at vacation Bible school and speaking at ladies’ days. She has also been active in various professional organizations. She served on the Henderson Board of Alderman for 14 years, occupying the seat once held by her father, George Saunders. She served on the Chester County Advisory Board for the Exchange Club/Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse and is currently a member of the board of directors for African Christian Schools. She has traveled extensively, frequently on mission trips.
As the daughter of educators, the value of education and the importance of literacy were part of her upbringing. Her father taught history in Chester County Schools for 37 years, and her mother, Nyla, a cosmetologist, taught those skills in Haywood County for 15 years. To honor her parents and grandparents, Saunders established the Saunders-Ruth Scholarship to assist an FHU undergraduate education major.
Although Saunders has now retired from teaching, she plans to continue teaching and learning through Sunday school, traveling on mission trips and reading her Bible daily.
“I read the Bible as I walk on the treadmill each morning,” Saunders said. That habit allows her to read through the Bible annually. She says one of her favorite scriptures is Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Many are grateful that her path led her to Freed-Hardeman University, where her quiet manner and steadfast faith influenced students for decades.