ZEBULON — June Sanders, whose fingers have helped shape nearly every Eastern Wake News, Gold Leaf Farmer, and Zebulon Record since the Nixon administration, is retiring from newspapers.
Sanders, 57, on July 5 ceased fulltime work as a sales assistant for The News & Observer to take the position as treasurer of Zebulon Baptist Church. She will work one day a week for The N&O and its community papers until she officially retires at the end of August.
Sanders is the only Eastern Wake News staff member whose tenure dates back to the newspaper’s days as a family-owned newspaper. Sanders’ mother and step-father, Barrie and Ramona Davis, owned the paper until 1982, when they sold it to Benson Newspaper Publishing, which The N&O later acquired.
“She’s a fixture ... synonymous with the newspapers in Wendell, Zebulon and Knightdale,” said Marty Coward, who worked as editor and later publisher of the eastern Wake papers from 1986 to 2006.
Jim McClure, vice president of display advertising for The N&O Publishing Company, described Sanders as “a good sounding board” for ideas.
“Because of her family’s history and her tenure in the business, she has a deep understanding of the business,” McClure said. “She truly loves this business and it shows. She’s a rock. We’ll truly miss her.”
Sanders’ career in newspapers began four decades ago, but her life in newspapers began at The Zebulon Record when she was in fifth grade.
“If there was something that needed to be done, mama made us learn it,” Sanders said.
Ramona Davis remembers bringing June and her two sisters to the Zebulon Record office in 1967 to clean the floors and roll up newspapers.
“The most amusing thing to me is that, when (Sanders’ daughter) Susan was born and only a week old, June brought her to the office because (June) had to close the books.”
Ink runs in the family’s blood, Davis said.
The Gold Leaf Farmer, the weekly newspaper of Wendell and Knightdale, hired Sanders as a bookkeeper in 1975. The weekly paper’s office was a four-room building on Third Street in Wendell.
“It had no windows, heating or AC, so we used to keep the doors open all the time,” Sanders said.
The stagnant air was thickened by her boss, Scott Brown, who, like many, would smoke a cigarette indoors. Sanders said she would come home “nasty with ink all over me.”
Sanders was in charge of accounting, classifieds, and mailing the papers. The addressograph machine was noisy, the hours were long and she had to address every newspaper by hand.
But she loved it.
By 1981, she could design a newspaper – waxing text onto large layout sheets, editing photos in a dark room, and even writing stories – “with my eyes closed,” Sanders said.
“I just love people,” Sanders said. “So doing this, it made you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile for the community.”
Though she was born in Greensboro, Sanders has been emotionally invested in the Zebulon area for most of her life. She’s been a member of the Zebulon Rotary Club, Zebulon Woman’s Club, and the Zebulon Lions’ Auxiliary. In 2010, the Zebulon Chamber of Commerce named Sanders its citizen of the year.
Sanders often made new connections in the community through her job. However, the technological revolution rendered Sanders’ job less and less personal in recent years. Instead of stopping by the office, most customers can now call or email the paper to buy an ad. The community papers are now designed in Charlotte. And the staff is smaller than it once was.
Still, Sanders gets teary when she thinks about leaving the business that’s been a part of her life since she was 11-years-old.
“It’s addictive,” she said. “It made you feel like you had a purpose.”
It’s appropriate, somehow, that, at Zebulon Baptist, Sanders will make sure the church has enough money in its own coffers to get out its own good news.