To those who knew him well, Teddy Saunders, born Luther Everett Saunders in Kingston, Jamaica, was a quiet soul who exuded strength and whose easy-going demeanor instilled comfort and calm in others.
Those qualities carried Saunders — nicknamed "Teddy" as a toddler for carrying a teddy bear with him on his way to nursery school — throughout his sports career, his service in the military and his many years as an educator in the Twin Cities.
Saunders died Feb. 21 at age 91.
A standout soccer and cricket player in his native country, Saunders enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after he moved to the United States. He immersed himself in higher education, earning multiple degrees, including a doctorate in curriculum and instruction, which he applied toward his role as an administrator and curriculum specialist at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount until his retirement.
"He loved education," his daughter Natalie Rasmussen said. "He loved helping people."
Saunders tutored countless adults, mainly immigrants wanting to learn English, Rasmussen said. He spent summers in Ethiopia with the Peace Corps, and worked with officials in other African countries to improve school systems and educational departments, she added.
Her father's passion for teaching influenced Rasmussen's own academic career, she said. Rasmussen, who also holds a doctorate degree, is an associate professor at Minnesota State University-Mankato.
Saunders came to the U.S. to attend Fordham University in New York. After one year, he decided to join the Air Force. After serving four years in the military, Saunders was honorably discharged with the rank of staff sergeant. During his years in the service, he married Sheila Aileen Buckley, also a native of Jamaica, in New York.
The couple moved to Michigan, where he completed his bachelor's degree at Michigan State University and received a master's at Wayne State University in Detroit. It's also where the couple's six children were born.
The family moved to Minnesota after Saunders received an offer to pursue his doctorate degree through a fellowship at the University of Minnesota.
In between studying for his doctorate, Saunders would engage his children in learning exercises. He thoroughly enjoyed brain games that involved analogies, riddles and puzzles, or any game "that made you think," Rasmussen said.
"We would sit around the dinner table and do those," she said. "When my kids were little, like 4 and 5 years old, I would do those same analogies with them."
Despite years in the Midwest, the family maintained roots in Jamaica with occasional visits, when Saunders' faint accent would kick into high gear, Rasmussen said.
As Saunders grew older, his sense of humor blossomed in the presence of the next generations of his family, Rasmussen said.
After 50 years of marriage, Sheila Saunders died of cancer. Years later, Saunders married Pansey Barbara Henry, also from Jamaica.
Saunders is survived by his wife, Pansey; his six children Natalie Rasmussen, Annette Weston, Stephen Saunders, Julia Hines, Jonathan Saunders, Lisa Casa De Calvo; siblings Janet Saunders and Gregory Saunders, and 15 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. He also leaves Pansey's children Coply Henry, Michelle Henry-King, and Myron Henry.
Rasmussen said her father will be remembered for his humility and soft-spoken tone, despite having six children who required his discipline.
"He couldn't yell," she jokingly recalled. "He was not used to yelling. He would just give you that look. That's all he needed."
Services have been held.