The Sanders family is truly Solid Orange

Clemson freshman Leslie Sanders wasn’t nervous about starting college this fall. She knew she already had a support system on campus in her four siblings who also attend Clemson.

That’s not a typo – the Sanders family has five children enrolled at Clemson this year. Besides Leslie, who is majoring in general engineering, there’s Patricia Sanders Merritt, a junior majoring in materials science and engineering; Allison, a junior dual major in nursing and business administration; Mac, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering; and Lindsey, a Ph.D. student in bioengineering, who also earned her bachelor’s in biosystems engineering from Clemson in 2008.

The five Sanders kids are following in the footsteps of their two older siblings – Lisa Sanders Perini, who earned a degree in administrative management in 1984, and Tom, who graduated in 1994 with a degree in chemical engineering.

In addition, two Sanders spouses also hold Clemson degrees – Tom’s wife, Laurie Townsend-Sanders, graduated in 1994 with a degree in biological sciences, and Mac’s wife, Elizabeth Ray Sanders, earned a degree in parks, recreation and tourism management this past May.

At the head of this clan is Bill Sanders, who earned his mechanical engineering degree from Clemson in 1961.

Having her older siblings already at Clemson, Leslie felt she had a head start over some of her classmates.

“I already knew where most of the big buildings were. I knew my way around and had a lot of background on Clemson. My roommate had no idea about a lot of that,” Leslie said. “They [Leslie’s siblings] tell me where everything is, the things I need to take care of, such as financial aid and parking, and other things I need to know to get by.”

The Sanders family

Alumni
Bill Sanders, Class of 1961, mechanical engineering
Lisa Sanders Perini, Class of 1984, administrative management
Tom Sanders, Class of 1994, chemical engineering
Laurie Townsend-Sanders, Class of 1994, biological sciences
Lindsey Sanders, Class of 2008, biosystems engineering
Elizabeth Ray Sanders, Class of 2011, parks, recreation and tourism management

Current students
Lindsey Sanders, Ph.D. student, bioengineering
Mac Sanders, senior, mechanical engineering
Allison Sanders, junior, nursing and business administration
Patricia Sanders Merritt, junior, materials science and engineering
Leslie Sanders, freshman, general engineering

Even Lindsey, the oldest of the five currently at Clemson, says she needs and appreciates the support her siblings provide.

“It’s great. There’s always someone to talk to. We have all of our best friends right here. There’s always something to do and lots of people around,” she said. “And we’re here for each other. We always have each other’s backs.”

Finding a roommate is never a problem for the Sanders, as many of them live together in apartments off campus.

“If I have a question or need help, I know there’s always someone in about a two-mile radius that I can call,” said Patricia.

The siblings also help each other by sharing books, making recommendations on certain classes or professors and helping one another with homework.

As the older Sanders kids would enroll at Clemson, their younger siblings would visit often, and the Myrtle Beach family has been going to Clemson football games for many years. As is the case with many Tiger fans, tailgating is a family tradition.

When older brother Tom was at Clemson in the 1990s, the entire family would visit him on campus for game weekends. Tom said he can remember Mac as a toddler, running around among the oak trees in the area behind Fort Hill as the family tailgated.

Shirley, mother of the five younger siblings, said she believes these early tailgating experiences left their mark on her children — literally.

“One of the very first games we brought them to when they were very young, we had painted tiger paws on their cheeks,” Shirley recalls. “It was a very sunny day, and later, when we wiped the paint off, the paws were still there, in white, from where they had gotten a little sunburn. Those white paws stayed there until Thanksgiving that year.”

Shirley said she loved having a house full of orange.

“I had a closet full of little orange shoes, all lined up, and little orange overalls and cheerleading dresses,” said Shirley. “Every game weekend, I would throw everything orange in the trunk of the car and let them find what fit them that year.”

Patricia remembers how her father would take the entire family shopping in downtown Clemson during Homecoming weekend. He would buy each child one item, and she said she remembers how they would all look for that perfect piece of Clemson memorabilia to take home.

Lindsey remembers those early morning drives up from the coast for game days. The family would look to the sky for a prediction of the outcome of the game.

“If the sunrise was orange, that meant Clemson would win. If there was maroon in the sky, that was a bad sign,” Lindsey said.

From left: Laurie Townsend-Sanders ’94 and husband Tom Sanders ’94; dad Bill Sanders ’61; Lisa Sanders Perini ’84; Lindsey Sanders ’08; Mac Sanders ’12 and wife Elizabeth Ray Sanders ’11.
From left: Laurie Townsend-Sanders ’94 and husband Tom Sanders ’94; dad Bill Sanders ’61; Lisa Sanders Perini ’84; Lindsey Sanders ’08; Mac Sanders ’12 and wife Elizabeth Ray Sanders ’11.
The family continues their tailgating today, but because there are so many of them, they are more spread out around campus on game days.

“We’re spread out over two or three different parking lots now, but that makes it more fun,” said Allison. “We get to walk all over campus and see a lot of different people.”

While the Sanders family likes to have their fun, they are also very serious about school. Each of the five students has some type of scholarship, and they have all held jobs to help pay for school.

Mac and Patricia have both worked through Clemson’s Cooperative Education program, which will lead to job opportunities for them down the road. Mac held a job with Curtiss Wright Controls, which manufactures airplane parts, and Patricia spent the summer working for KEMET in Simpsonville.

Bill says he’s very proud of the choices his children have made, and he believes a Clemson education will take them far.

“With the experience and education they’re receiving at Clemson, they’re not going to have any problem getting jobs,” he said. “The investment in a Clemson degree is an excellent investment.”

What makes the Sanders siblings even more remarkable is the fact that all five are working toward degrees in engineering or science-related fields. Science and math skills seem to run strong in the Sanders family, and the kids attribute it to their parents. With dad being a mechanical engineer and mom being a Certified Public Accountant, it’s safe to say math and science is in their genes.

Seeing his four daughters at Clemson is a vast change from when Bill was in school. Clemson had not been coeducational for very long at that time, so there were not many women on campus.

“I didn’t have a single girl in any of my classes. It was rare to see a girl at all in any of the engineering buildings back then,” he said.

Bill said he never imagined that all seven of his children would end up with Clemson degrees.

“Each one made their own decision to go to Clemson,” he said. “We never tried to influence them one way or another. We let them make up their own minds. The older ones coming to Clemson had more to do with it than we did.”

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