IT HAS BEEN MORE THAN 40 years since Elizabeth Ann (Bettis) Sanders was named the Outstanding Senior Woman, but when she returned to campus last spring for the rededication of the Senior Walk, some things about the former coed hadn’t changed.
Sanders, whose friends call her Ann, still had that infectious smile and she talked with familiar enthusiasm about her life, family and career.
Now an associate professor of educational leadership at Baker University, Sanders teaches in the university’s doctoral program and is the director of continuing education. Previously, she was a teacher and administrator for the Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Olathe school districts.
Sanders earned a BSEd in 1969 and an MS in 1970, both from PSU, and later a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. She came to PSU from Independence, Kan., where she was the first African-American salutatorian at Independence Community College.
At PSU, Sanders was not only a top student, but also a leader in campus activities and particularly in the struggle for equal rights.
“The 1960s were exciting times to be in college,” Sanders said. “It was a fun time.”
Sanders noted that “the literature of the time drew stark lines between black and white, but it truly wasn’t that way in Pittsburg.”
Sanders, in fact, was elected president of Tanner Hall, which was mostly white, and was named homecoming queen.
“I loved Tanner Hall,” Sanders said. “All of the girls got along. There were probably 30 African-American girls out of probably 250 girls in the hall. It was about what was right and who could make friends, who has empathy and who can inspire others to work together.”
Still, there were battles to fight. Sanders worked with other students to gain recognition of the Black Student Movement as an official student organization. She led a peaceful protest that resulted in a local store hiring its first African-American student employees. She also organized a peaceful protest involving both black and white students when Sen. Strom Thurmond, a fierce opponent of civil rights legislation, spoke on campus. The emphasis, she said, was always on non-violence.
Today, Sanders teaches educational leadership and she uses lessons she has learned along her own journey to inspire others.
One of those lessons stands out. It is the one she tells her daughters and anyone else who asks: “To whom much is given, much is expected.