Habitat for Humanity founder Bill Sanford recalled as selfless volunteer

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comJuly 29, 2013 

In his retirement years, William C. "Bill" Sanford of Atwater founded the local Habitat for Humanity group, wrote extensively, traveled around the world and volunteered with many causes.

Sanford, a retired United Methodist Church minister who died July 18 after battling cancer, is remembered by friends and colleagues as the quintessential volunteer — eager to help wherever needed but not wanting any credit for himself.

Sanford wrote for the Sun-Star's weekend magazine Breakaway, as well as travel articles, letters to the editor and other opinion pieces. His book, titled "The San Joaquin, the Sierra and Beyond" was published nearly 20 years ago. He also wrote regularly for religious magazines and newsletters.

"He was a wonderful, kind and gentle man," the Rev. Paul Lundberg, pastor of Atwater's First Baptist Church, said. "He stood up for what he cared about. He was one of those amazing, unusual people who stepped up to the plate. You couldn't help but like the man. I had great respect for him."

Lundberg, a friend for 20 years, said he was amazed at how much Sanford could get done in a day. They both served on the Habit for Humanity board.

Fred Pillsbury of Atwater said Sanford was involved with Habitat for Humanity right up the end and was always there to help.

"He was never looking for credit for himself," Pillsbury said.

Isabel Castro of Le Grand lives in a house built by Habitat for Humanity. She said Sanford was very friendly and seemed very caring with other people.

Lyle Allen of Merced, on the Habit for Humanity board, said Sanford was dedicated to serving people and never looked for credit for himself. Allen cited a much-repeated quotation that it's amazing how much a person can accomplish when he doesn't care who gets the credit.

Sanford served as pastor of Atwater's United Methodist Church from 1980-88 and was pastor at churches in Kingsburg, Crescent City, Gilroy and Paradise. He also served churches in Puerto Rico and New Zealand, and took mission trips to Jamaica, Belize and Nevis.

Ken Leap of Merced met Sanford 15 years ago, and they went to lunch every couple of weeks.

"He was well-read, well-traveled, creative and organized," Leap said. "He was honest and open, easy to talk to about things."

Sanford's interests also extended to railroads, photography, hiking and playing the baritone horn. He and his wife of 58 years, Jeanne, had taken 13 cruises, traveled to 75 ports of call and logged 34,133 nautical miles.

Rod Webster of Merced, who knew Sanford for 20 years, said he had a desire to share his enthusiasm for travel with other people. And he had a penchant for visiting places off the beaten path.

"Exploring ideas and places were high on Bill's 'love to do' list," Webster said. "Further evidence of this is shown in his many articles in local newspapers encouraging others to follow in his footsteps of discovery."

Webster said this discovery went beyond outdoor adventures. He brought sensitive and controversial topics to the public forum as well.

"In his writings, Bill had a knack for framing discussion around mutual respect and a quest for our common humanity," Webster said.

George Gallaher of Atwater is the secretary and public information officer for the Habitat for Humanity group. He said Sanford was like a mentor to him and a good ambassador to other people.

A memorial service for Sanford will be 1 p.m. on Aug. 10 at United Methodist Church of Merced, 899 Yosemite Park Way. The Rev. George Bennett will officiate.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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