Obituary: David Cornelius Sanderson

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — David Cornelius Sanderson was born to God-fearing parents Joseph and Esther Sanderson, in the boiling summer heat of Phoenix, Arizona, August 15, 1939. He was the brother of Barbara Hunter, of Fresno, Ca., and the late Joseph Sanderson of Riverside, Ca. 

Dave entered into eternal peace on April 4. He leaves his legacy in the loving care of his immediate family to include his wife of 51 years Joyce (O’Brien) Sanderson, his children, Daniel (Danielle), Kathleen Upham (Lou), Diane Sanderson, Mary Smith (Ben), Helen Maas (John) and his adoring grandchildren, Haley Kennedy, Laura and Kathleen Smith, Isabella, Jack and Joseph Sanderson.
In his eventful 78 years, Dave also made many lifelong friends and kindred spirits who were dear to his heart.
Dave’s early years were spent on a ranch in Phoenix, Az., where his family lived and worked for generations. In 1945, the Sandersons moved their family to California, settling in the San Fernando Valley in Burbank.
Dave enrolled at St. Finbar’s where he would complete 8 years of education, and go on to a scholarship won in an entrance exam competition to Norte Dame High School in Sherman Oaks. There, he played football and graduated in 1957. 
Dave joined the Army National Guard and “learned” to drive a Jeep, as well as help people who had succumbed to heat stroke, while in training in Death Valley, Ca. He taught boxing, and ran a small commissary for soldiers in need.
After leaving the Army, Dave enrolled at Glendale Community College in California.
While studying Electrical Engineering there, he was recruited by LibraScope, a small division of a well-known American corporation, Singer. Librascope was recruiting an elite team of engineers to support the US Navy’s Submarine Fleet during the Cold War, specifically to install and maintain the fire control systems on the Navy’s submarines and surface vessels.
This launched a 37-year career, which took Dave up and down both Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Caribbean and Hawaii.
During his time in Hawaii, Dave met Joyce O’Brien in 1967, and they were soon married at St Patrick’s Church in Kaimuki, in the Shadow of Diamondhead. They welcomed their first child Daniel in 1968, born under a palm tree at Leeward Oahu Hospital, in Aiea.The Sandersons were then transferred to HQ in Glendale and lived in La Tuna Canyon, Tujunga, Ca. Once again surrounded by family, they lived for 3 years and welcomed two daughters, Kathleen and Diane, both born at St Joseph’s Hospital where Dave’s mother Esther, now affectionately known as Ama, worked as a dietician. 

In 1973 with three kids under 5, Dave and Joyce moved to Newport, RI and lived on Ruggles Avenue and their fourth child Mary was born. Just one year later in 1974, the family moved again to Dover, New Hampshire, close to Dave’s work at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Dave and Joyce purchased 8 acres of the former Twin River Farm overlooking the Piscatiqua River, and settled into a large farmhouse there.

The following 5 years gave Dave and Joyce many opportunities to enjoy their interests. Dave was able to convert the 13-room farmhouse from an oil-fired, forced hot water system to a wood fired one, by converting an unused coal furnace original to the house to a wood fired one, of his own design and making.

He bought a dump truck and struck a deal with a local lightning rod company to clear land for them, the agreement being he could keep all the wood he cleared. Dave and his neighbor, Wayne worked most weekends for 2 years, cutting, hauling, splitting and storing wood to heat their homes.

Dave farmed the land, growing all manner of vegetables, the primary crop being corn, which they ate and sold and gave away to those in need. He raised turkeys and chickens, repaired and operated the 1919 Fordson Tractor that came with the farm, and harvested the fruit of apple and pear orchards every season which Joyce turned in to pies and jams for family and friends and anyone who could use them.

In 1979 the government’s needs moved the Sandersons again — this time back to Aquidneck Island. Dave, having known the Island since the early 1960s, saw an opportunity to raise his family in Portsmouth, settling into his last home on the north end of the island, in Common Fence Point. The Sandersons’ fifth child Helen was born in Newport, 1980. 

Dave and Joyce raised their kids to understand the importance of commitment, community, family, and love. Their door was always open to all the family’s friends; no one was ever turned away. The laughter and love from the family home spilled into the streets and far beyond. At the center was Dave’s steady and principled approach to life, coupled with a real joy for living. 

Dave became involved in coaching sports and coached youth football teams and high school teams during the 80s and 90s. He worked hardest on behalf of the kids who had the least to offer, going out of his way to invite them to play, get them to practice, ensure they had the necessary equipment and “mental toughness” to the benefit of the team. Through heavy recruitment efforts, Dave put together one of the largest freshman football rosters the school ever had. His mantra, “We Hit!,” was adopted enthusiastically by his players, “the ’89 Bunch.”

Dave retired in 1995 at age 56. He was able to enjoy many pursuits – traveling, building and most importantly fishing. His first grandchild Haley was born in 1997 and she would frequently accompany him over the years to his favorite fishing hole, Taylor’s Point. 

Dave and Joyce had 5 more grandchildren, Laura, Kathleen, Isabella, Jack and Joe, all of whom share fun memories of their Papa, who they could always rely upon to fix anything. 

All 5 of Dave and Joyce’s children and all 6 of their grandchildren reside in Newport County again, and all the children, their spouses and grandchildren were with Dave at Charlton Memorial when he breathed his last, April 4, 2018. 

Calling hours will be held on Tuesday, April 10 from 4:00pm-7:00pm in the Connors Funeral Home, 55 West Main Rd, Portsmouth.

Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, April 11 with a Mass of Christian Burial at 11:00am in Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, 141 State St, Bristol. Burial will follow in St. Columba Catholic Cemetery, Middletown.

Memorial donations may be made to the Portsmouth Rescue Wagon Fund, PO Box 806, Portsmouth, RI 02871.

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