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Goodbye, but never forgotten

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Libby Sanders

Libby Sanders, an irreplaceable part of the culture and education in Salem, passed away Sunday evening.

For over four decades Libby taught students, young and old, through her work at Southwest Baptist University-Salem as an adjunct faculty member from 1989-2014, educator at Salem R-80 schools, First Steps instructor and over 30 years coordinating events and programs at Bonebrake Center of Nature and History.

Libby received her Bachelor of Science in Education degree in 1973 and her Master’s in Education in 1985 from the University of Missouri-Columbia and held several additional educational certifications involving curriculum for exceptional children and special needs students.

Libby was Salem’s youngest, and first alderwoman, elected in April 1978. Always a pioneer of educational projects in the community, her dedication and volunteer hours are immeasurable.

She was recognized with an award in 2014 for her outstanding leadership and years of service to the Elementary Education program at SBU.

A community volunteer, folk musician and accomplished storyteller who spent over 40 years as an educator, continued to do so after her retirement from the traditional classroom.

“I’m not giving it up, I’ll just be teaching in a different way,” she said in a 2014 interview with The Salem News.

The popular faculty member was well known on the Salem campus for her favorite life skills motto, “Be kind---for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

Libby officially became the executive director of Bonebrake Center in 1999, but created programs for the community since the fall of 1988. Countless programs over the years were made possible by her volunteer hours, along with others giving of their time. Sky watching, Mother Goose, art shows, concerts, a Victorian Musical Christmas, Bonebrake Discovery Camp, Mudbugs Club and so many more were created and organized by Libby.

She loved the Bonebrake property as her own, for decades.

“I love that it is a place where families, and especially children, can experience and learn about a variety of outdoor habits and learn about their own backyard, either through self-exploration or a program,” Sanders said in an interview with The Salem News years ago. “I love the three H’s it encompasses: history, habitats, and heritage of the Ozarks.”

She has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Bonebrake-McMurtrey Foundation, volunteer executive director of the Bonebrake Center of Nature and History, member of the Salem Area Arts Council, member of the Association of Missouri Interpreters, member of the Local Interagency Coordinating Council for First Steps, co-chair of the Regional Interagency Coordinating Council for Region 9 of First Steps and alternate for the State Interagency Coordinating Council.

The list of her humanitarian and volunteer works are unparalleled and will be forever present in our community.

Libby’s love of music, both vocal and instrumental, have been a favorite among students for decades. Though her voice is now silent, the memories of her infectious attitude and zest in life will be remembered by many.

One of my first memories of Libby was at an assembly at school, shortly after moving to Salem. She came to the old middle school gymnasium with her guitar. I don’t remember the songs she shared that day, but I remember being captivated by her stories and songs. That type of learning was something I never experienced in my former middle school.

I watched a myriad of events at Bonebrake Center unfold, most often with Libby there to direct or entertain. Most recently, I had the pleasure of enrolling my oldest daughter in Mudbugs Club last year, before COVID-19 forced cancellation of so many events. It was a couple hours, every couple of weeks, where kids could learn something about the outdoors, and usually get a little muddy. The enthusiasm for the outdoors Libby, Janet and the other volunteers brought to the kids was something you can’t learn in a classroom.

Her booming laughter could be heard across the yard at pick-up time, and her smile was catching for those who were present.

You would be hard-pressed to find many people in Salem, without a “Libby” memory.

Lots of people in small towns talk, and I have never in my time in Salem heard one bad thing said about Libby. Not one. Her unmatched heart for education, the arts and nature will be significantly absent in years to come.

We razzed each other a bit just before Thanksgiving. We had a rather large typo on the front of one of the sections in The Salem News. She texted me about it referring to herself as “the grammar police and former teacher.” She immediately apologized after sending it saying her, “fingers got ahead of common decency.” I wrote back it was no trouble, and I hated finding the typos after things print because after that point it is too late. She agreed and shared a story about handouts from her teaching days where something similar occurred.

It was always a joy to talk to Libby. No matter if I was there for work, or not, we always seemed to chat a bit about this or that.

It was so hard to find words to adequately describe Libby and her lasting impact on so many lives. How do you summarize one of the most genuine, caring people you have ever met into a few paragraphs? How can you find the words when your memories are vast?

She said these words in an interview with The Salem News regarding the end of her classroom teaching career. It seemed the perfect way to end my thoughts as I recalled the countless memories I have had with Libby, like so many others who were lucky to cross her path.

“It’s been an amazing trip, and I have loved it.”