Gary Saunders Day – a Celebration of Life

Gary Saunders, a beloved western North Carolina musician who passed away in 2020, was remembered last Saturday at Whippoorwill Academy and Village in Ferguson, NC. The multi-instrumentalist was celebrated with picking, grinning, and storytelling,

We had the most wonderful day for Gary Saunders’ celebration of Life. Over 100 folks came out for music, stories, an auction, and refreshments. The weather was perfect and the Whippoorwill Village views of the Blue Ridge Mountain were amazing,” said Sharon Underwood, a fan and music friend of Saunders.

“The best part of the day was when Gary’s five-year-old grandson, Hadley Saunders, played the little guitar that Gary had given him. He played with the Catawba Bluegrass band at the end of the program on a medley of I’ll Fly Away, Amazing Grace, and Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Saunders, 67, of Lenoir, NC, died on August 10, 2020. A versatile musician, Saunders performed in several local bands including the Neighbor’s Bluegrass Band, the YaYas, and the Catawba Bluegrass Band. Additionally, he was an active member of the Wilkes Folk Music Society and volunteered annually with MerleFest.

Attendee, Suzanne Williams, stated, “(It was a) beautiful afternoon celebrating the life of Gary Saunders with tributes, stories, and music. The perfect way to remember him. He will always be missed.”

Linzey Ham whose band, the Catawba Bluegrass Band, performed, agreed. “Great day!”

During his celebration of life, Gary’s wife, Marcie, told some ‘Garyisms’ on her late husband. The couple had many happy years together. Gary’s son, Zeb, also shared thoughts about his dad.  Additionally, Tony Deal presented some hilarious Gary stories.

Susan Rhodes, President of Wilkes Acoustic Folk Society, reflected on the man. “Gary Saunders exemplified true Christian values. He loved everyone, never met a stranger. Loved music and enjoyed helping others learn to love music too. He shared his gifts with anyone and everyone. After meeting him, you left with a smile, a hug or an invitation to play music or fish. If you were real lucky, all three.”

A Dr. Banjo Jam Camp Scholarship has been established in his memory. The annual scholarship will award one deserving recipient (for ages 10 and above) to attend The Pete Wernick-Dr. Banjo Camp, covering the three-day tuition. Held during the week of MerleFest, the camp is located at YMCA Camp Harrison in Boomer, NC. Rebecca Myers was the first recipient. Money for the scholarship was raised by friends and family of Gary and it is being managed by the Wilkes Acoustic and Folk Society. Donations are still being accepted.

Tax deductible donations can be mailed to:

Wilkes Acoustic Folk Society
Attention Treasurer: John Logsdon
PO Box 123
N. Wilkesboro, NC 28659-0123

Reference the check for Gary Saunders Memorial Scholarship.

Applications and details for the scholarship can be found online under scholarships.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.