It can be said that Larry Sanders has been involved in the guidance and development of the city of Three Way since the late 1800s when his ancestors settled land and established a large family farm in north Madison County. His family has been instrumental in guiding the use of land for agricultural business, establishment of a school and collaborating for the development of a thriving community around a “fork in the road” commonly known as Three Way.
Sanders was born and raised in Three Way, previously known as the community of Fairview. He spent his childhood growing up on the family farm. He was no stranger to hard work. During his professional life, Sanders held many jobs from coaching basketball, Superintendent of Humboldt City School, and lastly, mayor of the city of Three Way.
The founding families of the Fairview community shared a common spirit of ownership and independence, and by the early 1970s, residents worked together to protect their community independence and voted to incorporate. They elected a mayor and board of aldermen. Sanders won the election for mayor of Fairview, but the referendum on incorporation failed by six votes, so the city had to wait another 28 years to achieve incorporation.
After Three Way incorporated in 1998, Sanders ran again for mayor in 2014 and won the position to finally fulfill his mission of guiding the city, his community, into the future. Being mayor of his hometown was the pinnacle of his career.
Mayor Sanders has lived in Three Way/Fairview his entire life and resided on Sanders Road, which was named after his family. He attended school through the 8th grade at Fairview School in Three Way. After students completed the 8th grade, they then transferred to North Side High School in Jackson, Tenn. His father was the first school bus driver in Three Way, except his school bus was a wagon pulled by horses.
Mayor Larry Sanders began his role as Mayor of Three Way in January 2015. He was immediately met with challenges in his new role when the city recorder/treasurer of Three Way passed away only a few short days before he took office. Mayor Sanders entered office with no administrative staff and no guidance on the day-to-day workings of the city government.
With the help of the MTAS staff and the volunteer hours of City Recorder Kim Gilley from the neighboring town of Medina, and the spirit of determination and desire to serve his community, Sanders brought his resume of expertise in administration, finance and accounting, and project coordination together to learn quickly and effectively for the benefit of the citizens to help keep the city on track to success.
He demonstrated an ability to hire and manage quality people, adapt to challenging situations, and bring people together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration to achieve goals.
Mayor Sanders brought a philosophy of very high standards of excellence and regard for the legal and ethical stewardship of city government. Under his guidance and fiscal responsibility, the city has always had a balanced budget and been able to achieve numerous capital projects and improvements without raising taxes.
One of Mayor Sanders’ first orders of business was to begin annual paving projects in the city of Three Way. Under his leadership, Three Way has seen record street improvements. The mayor’s goal began with paving the streets in the worst condition first and then moving down the list. In the first three years of his tenure, Mayor Sanders oversaw paving and street repairs to 42 city streets. Under his leadership, the mayor developed a long range plan for resurfacing Three Way streets and the plan that he developed is the same plan that is being followed today.
Another innovation Mayor Sanders brought to the table was to bring dedicated police protection to the City of Three Way. Three Way has always had police protection through the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, but Mayor Sanders took it a step further by contracting with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office to provide two dedicated deputies in the city of Three Way. Currently, the city of Three Way does not have the financial resources to employ its own police department, therefore, Sanders’ actions were a win-win for the community.
When Mayor Sanders took office, Three Way was involved in litigation that stemmed from Humboldt filing a lawsuit against the city’s incorporation in 1998. This lawsuit had been ongoing for years, and the mayor was resolved in settling this litigation and bringing it to an end. He worked hand in hand with Humboldt Mayor Marvin Sikes and with lawyers on both sides of the suit. The litigation was successfully settled under his leadership. Prior to the city’s incorporation, Mayor Sanders served on the Annexation Committee that took action to incorporate the City, which was known as Fairview at the time. Thanks to Mayor Sanders and other like-minded individuals, they were successful in leading the charge to squash Humboldt’s attempt to annex Three Way.
Mayor Sanders oversaw several capital outlay projects for the city of Three Way to include the upgrading of city equipment and the building of a new storage shed to house the equipment. But none were bigger than the construction of a new city hall. When Mayor Sanders took office, the city hall was a 700 sq.ft. Yard shed building converted workable office space with the mayor’s office, front desk and a restroom. It was located next to the maintenance shop.
The new city hall has 4,000 square feet and is located next to Pine Hill Park. The groundbreaking ceremony took place in August 2019, and the mayor and city recorder moved into the new building in June 2020. The mail floor has offices for the mayor and for the city recorder, a large boardroom, a conference room and public restrooms. Prior to the opening of the new city hall, board meetings were held in the back room of the local fire station. The upstairs of the city hall is currently unfinished and being used for storage. Mayor Sanders visionary plan was to design the upstairs so that offices can be added for future growth.
Another project that was pending when Mayor Sanders took office was the establishment of a city municipal code. The Mayor took action to get the ball rolling to complete this project. The mayor successfully led the city through the process and in November 2017, the board of mayor and alderman passed an ordinance to establish the code. The code is now accessible on the city’s website, cityofthreeway.org. Through his efforts, the city’s website was modernized and brought it up to the latest standards.
An additional accomplishment of Mayor Sanders is the purchase of an additional seven acres of land adjacent to the Three Way Municipal Complex. The city is currently in talks with a general contractor and an architect to expand the park. Some items on the wish-list to upgrade the park include tennis/pickle ball courts, an area to accommodate a half size soccer field, bleachers, a horseshoe pit, extension of the walking trails and additional parking.
One of the highlights of the park expansion is the relocation of a historical building in Three Way, known as the Fesmire Building, to the municipal complex. The Fesmire Building was originally an old church located in the original city limits and is the last remaining building from the Fairview days. In later years, the building was purchased by a local community club. The members of the community club donated the building to the city. When the building is relocated to the park, the plan is for it to be used as an event venue for weddings, family gatherings, etc. The Fesmire Building will need major renovations before it can be used, but having one of the oldest pieces of Three Way history inside the city’s municipal complex was one of Mayor Sanders’ key priorities.
Mayor Sanders leadership during the COVID pandemic was unsurpassed. The Mayor made personal visits to the businesses in Three Way to make sure they were following CDC guidelines and taking every precaution to protect their employees and their customers. He allowed them to make the decision on whether to continue operations. The city of Three Way did not close during the pandemic. Everyone in the office stayed in their confined spaces and outside city services remained operational. The only city service that did not stay open was the park, but it was not closed entirely. Mayor Sanders left the walking trails in the park open because he knew how valuable it would be for the people in Three Way to be able to get out and exercise, and not be isolated, particularly seniors who sometimes live alone. He went another step further, and during the pandemic, he used COVID grant funds to install outside exercise equipment geared toward seniors to give them an additional outlet for their continued well-being. They could walk and exercise, one-on-one, while social distancing. He also installed hands free soap dispensers, hand sanitizer dispensers and hand towel dispensers at the park and city hall to ensure public safety.
Perhaps one of the mayor’s most impressive accomplishments was his personal approach with the people who live in Three Way. Mayor Sanders personally spoke to every person who contacted him with concerns, be it at the time of the phone call or visit, or by returning the phone call to every caller who left a message. Mayor Sanders has been seen working on Sunday directing traffic in local subdivisions while the City’s maintenance crew worked to remove downed trees on the street due to storm damage. He offered personal service to his community as often as was necessary.
He was also the chair to public events at the city park such as the Three Way Festival and the Heritage Festival. He was personally involved in the implementation of all public events held in Three Way.
Mayor Sanders was been able to accomplish the city’s goals and needs without raising property taxes. In fact, Three Way has one of the lowest city property taxes in the state at a rate of $0.4159.
Mayor Sanders served as a board member on the city of Three Way Planning and Zoning Commission and was chairman of the city of Three Way Beer Board. He was also an appointed member of the Southwest Human Resource Agency Governing Board. Mayor Sanders served as the president of the West Tennessee Mayor’s Association from 2021 through 2022.
He was a member of the Friends of the Middle Fork Recreation Area. The organization was established to help raise funds to complete the park entrance, which is located in Three Way on Sanders Bluff Road. It has become a possibility that the state may turn this area into a state park, which will be a major win for Three Way, and it would gain the necessary funding for the continued success of the park. Mayor Sanders was continually in touch with state and Local officials in regard to the growth and improvements of the park.
His vision had guided Three Way from a thriving farming community to grow responsibly into a thriving city with a strong, stable government, high quality residential neighborhoods, commercial businesses, and recreational properties so that people would want to safely live, work and play, raise a family, or retire, and be provided with amenities for high quality of life, and maintain low taxes.
His ancestors would be proud if they could see their rural family farm community, and what his has become, with thanks to Mayor Sanders the City is in a prime position to continue to grow responsibly and provide for the citizens for generations to come.
Mayor Sanders has lifelong roots in Three Way and his service to his community was a labor of love. It was a milestone in life when he was elected Mayor in 2015. The ability to serve the community that served him his entire life was a great honor and one that he served diligently. In the summer of 2022, the mayor received a diagnosis of cancer. He showcased his integrity by reporting to work at 8 a.m. every day during his illness, including his last day. He served his community until the end.
Mary Ann Tremblay, Susan Rogers and Danny Wade contributed to this article.