Gwyneth Saunders: Veterans club leader is Sun City’s human mascot

People

If you’ve spent any time inside the Sun City Hilton Head gates, you’ve likely seen or heard Gwyneth Saunders.

Those who know and love her count her as a symbol of the community’s ageless vitality. The ever-humble 64-year-old prefers to see it as just not having the ability to say no.

“I learned that spirit of volunteering in the Navy. I love doing and learning new things. I’m not the retiring type. The more exciting it is, the better,” she said. “I feed off other people’s energy, so being around other folks powers me.”

Gwyneth Saunders2From the chorus to the theater, the dance studio to the writers’ club, Saunders has made her mark since attending her first Sun City club fair in October 2008. One of the first groups the 26-year Navy vet joined was the Sun City Veterans Association. Seven and a half years later in April 2016, she became the first female commander in the club’s history.

“I’m a bit in awe that I’m the head of this organization,” she said. As a member of the Navy, she took reporter posts, base TV and radio station manager and public affairs officer appointments from Boston to Antarctica with eight domestic and international stops in between. “It was a different time, and combat positions for women were a rarity. I drove a notebook or a camera where the folks in this organization drove tanks or subs or destroyers. But I’ve had plenty of vets tell me that if we put on the uniform with not much choice where we’re going, we’re all the same.”

Saunders spent four years in elected roles in the Sun City organization, including being named vice commander in 2015. She has seen the good that the 1,000-member group does since the day she arrived in Sun City.

“I’m the figurehead, I’m the one you come to that directs you to all the people that can help. We have one person who knows more about the VA than anyone I’ve ever known. You need VA assistance, we’re going to get you help,” she said.

Saunders recently oversaw the group’s Memorial Day commemoration and is organizing the Veterans Day salute to Korean War heroes this fall. “You don’t have to be a veteran to join us, you just have to want to support our heroes. And we sure have plenty of them in our ranks.”

The organization works with the Bluffton High School ROTC and its color guard (“the most awesome around,” says a proud Saunders) and represents the group at events around the Lowcountry. The vets organized a softball game last year between the Wounded Warrior amputees and the Sun City softball team that drew 3,000 spectators, the biggest event in Sun City Hilton Head history.

Saunders, a South Jersey native and daughter of an Episcopalian preacher, has made her mark inside the gates as well as all around the Lowcountry. A decade after retiring from the Navy, she and husband Tony moved to Bluffton and she got the itch to start writing again. Saunders’ byline began appearing almost immediately, first in Bluffton Today and later in The Bluffton Sun and Hilton Head Monthly.

“It has been a wonderful way to get to know this amazing place and its people,” she said. “It allowed me to dive in, asking questions of strangers and quickly making new friends.”

She has made plenty of those. A recent day started with commander duties, followed by a visit to the theater, where she is co-directing and performing in this year’s Sun City Follies. Later, she went to voice lessons, signed up for this summer’s dance camp (“I can’t wait to learn hip hop.”) and ended her day with more veterans group meetings before putting her reporter hat on to conduct an interview.

“Tony, he loves watching me. He sits on the porch, watches the cats and does his crosswords. That’s his thing. Me, I’m not much for down time,” she said. “I love to cook, love to read and I love my computer games. But I’m not much for sitting idle.”

She says we all get to rest eventually, but she takes her fellow Sun City neighbors’ lead in living to the fullest until that rest.

“It better be some party. I want Bushmills Black and a bar of dark chocolate in my casket,” she said. “Until that happens, I’m going to lead the veterans proudly and soak up every moment of Lowcountry living.”