Ken Sanders, longtime Detroit employee, dies at 57

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News
Ken Sanders

 Detroit — Ken Sanders knew how to throw a party.

He and his wife, Lori, often hosted gatherings at their 1930 Tudor home in Detroit's University District, where invitees might bump into guests like Motown legend Martha Reeves, Packard Plant developer Ferndando Palazuelo or Tennessee State University President Glenda Baskin Glover

A business consultant who spent decades working for the city of Detroit, Sanders was driven by his desire to put people together to meet and make connections in hopes that their lives could eventually be better.

"Ken was very much full of life," said Lori Sanders. "Ken was a giver. Ken was a fixer. That's what Ken did. He put people together in situations where the ultimate goal would be success. Ken wasn't a stranger to anyone."

Sanders died on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, from complications related to scleroderma, a connective tissue disease that causes hardening of the skin. He was 57.  

Sanders' youngest daughter from his first marriage, KendraRenee Sanders, said one of her favorite memories of him is how he would cheer her up if she felt low or doubted herself. 

"He reminded me that he was Ken Sanders and I was Ken Sanders' daughter and there was nobody like me," said KendraRenee Sanders, 21. "It always made me laugh. He was my best friend in the whole world. I talked with him every single day."

Roscoe Copeland called Sanders one of his mentors, saying he taught him how to succeed in business through principles such as listening to people to understand, not just replying.

Sanders knew everyone who was anyone in Detroit, Copeland said, adding that he met many of the city's movers and shakers because he was introduced by Sanders with his trademark smile. 

"When you meet Ken, he lights up a room," said Copeland, CEO of Afya Beauty and Wellness in Detroit.  "He was a lover of life. He was one of the most enlightened spirits I've ever met. Ken was one-of-a-kind."

Sanders, a member of the Detroit Golf Club, also taught Copeland how to golf.

"He's one of the top golfers in the city, in the state he'd tell you," Copeland said.

Sanders was born in Memphis. After his mother died when he was 3, he was raised in Detroit by his grandparents.

He went back to his roots to get his college education at Tennessee State, one of the nation's more than 100 historically black colleges and universities.

But Detroit pulled him back after he graduated, and he began working with the city, starting with the Parks and Recreation Department in 1978.

Over more than 30 years, his service spanned the zoological association, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the city's housing commission, and the workforce development and lighting department, where he was a project manager instrumental in the exterior lighting of the MGM Grand Casino, said Lori Sanders.

He ended his career in the city in 2014 as a manager of contracts for the Water and Sewerage Department.

In retirement, Sanders became a business consultant, political consultant and fund developer.

In 2015, Mayor Mike Duggan appointed Sanders to the city's Historic District Commission. He was also a board member of the University District Association and one of the original board members of Figure Skating in Harlem.

He also founded the Detroit Golf Society and Detroit's golf league for city of Detroit employees, Lori Sanders said. Sanders also served for 15 years as a committee member for the annual golf outing of the NAACP Detroit chapter. 

Besides his wife and youngest daughter, survivors include a 12-year-old son, Kenneth Sanders Jr.; along with two other children from his first marriage: daughter I'Man Holmes-Christmas, 38, and son, Benjamin Holmes, 35; and seven grandchildren. 

A celebration of Sanders' life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Little Rock Baptist Church, 9000 Woodward, Detroit.