Leaders in philanthropy: Concern for children’s health care at heart of couple’s giving
Published on Thursday, May 6, 2021
By: Annie Oeth, firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Under the Rainbow, the semi-annual magazine for Children's of Mississippi.
Joe and Kathy Sanderson first learned the importance of having the best pediatric care close to home when their granddaughter Sophie Creath, then 4 years old, was admitted to the children’s hospital for chronic hereditary pancreatitis, a disorder that causes persistent inflammation and interferes with normal functions of the pancreas.
“After witnessing the competent, loving care of the team at Children's, we realized the importance of this wonderful hospital, and their needs have been on our hearts,” Kathy Sanderson said. “We wanted the medical team to have a facility that would help them provide the kind of care that any parent or grandparent would want for their child.”
The couple grew closer to the state’s only children’s hospital in 2013 when Joe Sanderson, CEO and board chairman of Sanderson Farms, decided to take on the title sponsorship of the state’s only PGA TOUR event. While gratitude for Sophie’s care was a motivating factor, so was the health of the golf tournament, hosted by Century Club Charities.
“Through the Sanderson Farms Championship, Kathy and I got to know more about the hospital and the experts there,” Joe Sanderson said. “We knew the importance of their mission not just for our family, but for all Mississippi families.”
In 2016, the Laurel-based Fortune 1000 food company made a 10-year commitment to the tournament as title sponsor.
“It was time for us to contemplate the future and what kind of commitment we were going to make going forward,” said Joe Sanderson in announcing the commitment. “We believe that it is important, particularly for the charities and for Children’s of Mississippi, to know that we’re going to be here for that period of time, for the Jackson metro area and the state of Mississippi to know that they can depend on us.”
For seven consecutive years, the tournament has set a record in philanthropy, announcing a $1.45 million donation to Friends of Children’s Hospital from the 2020 Sanderson Farms Championship. Since 2013, the tournament has raised more than $9 million to benefit Children’s of Mississippi through Friends, a nonprofit that raises funds for the children’s hospital.
2016 was also the year that Joe and Kathy Sanderson launched the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi with a $10 million personal gift and a commitment to chair the effort. The $100 million drive, also known as the Growing Campaign, has raised more than 85 percent of its goal.
“What Joe and Kathy Sanderson have achieved is nothing short of remarkable,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “When they started the Campaign, we knew the goal was huge, and the project of raising funds to build a children’s hospital is enormous in complexity and importance, but I never had doubts. We all knew that what Joe and Kathy start, they complete, and we are so grateful for their heart for children and concern for their health care.”
Their generosity and leadership come as no surprise to anyone who knows the Sandersons.
Sanderson Farms Chief Operating Officer Lampkin Butts, who has known Joe Sanderson since their childhood in Laurel, said the giving spirit of the Sandersons prompted them to reach out to bless others.
“It is great to see this project completed,” he said, “and to know that Sanderson Farms and Joe and Kathy (Sanderson) have had a major part in making this happen. My wife, Susie, and I are proud to know them both.”
Since joining the family-owned business in 1969, Joe Sanderson has worked to grow the company as well as the state. Sanderson Farms is the third largest poultry company in the United States, employing nearly 12,000 people in operations in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina.
He is actively involved in several industry and business associations, serving as a director of the Mississippi Poultry Association, Mississippi Manufacturers Association and the National Chicken Council. He is past chairman of those organizations. In 2002, he was inducted into the Mississippi Poultry Hall of Fame and is the first second-generation recipient of this honor. In February 2006, Sanderson was selected as a Laureate of the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame.
His civic service includes his service as a director of the Eudora Welty Foundation and vice chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal for the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. Additionally, he has served as a director of the Pine Burr Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Salvation Army, United Way, and the Laurel Chamber of Commerce, and as a trustee for the Mississippi Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. He has also served as a trustee for Millsaps College and the Laurel School District, a director of Alcorn State University Foundation, and as a past president and director of the Association for Excellence in Education.
The Sandersons have three daughters and six grandchildren, including Sophie, who is now a healthy and active student at Baylor University.
“The Sandersons' dedication to this state and to families here is evident by the generosity they’ve shown not just in the past few years, but throughout their lives,” Woodward said. “Through their efforts, children who have not yet been born will be able to receive expert medical care in a state-of-the-art children's hospital close to home. Mississippi is and will continue to be a better place because of Joe and Kathy Sanderson.”