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Standing beside one of the Main Street planters she recently filled with holiday greens as a member of Branford Garden Club (BGC), Pat Sanders has high praise for the many civic contributions of the all-volunteer group, which she will lead for the next two years as BGC president, beginning Friday, Dec. 7. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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She’s broken glass ceilings here and abroad; now, Patricia “Pat” Sanders is about to break new ground as incoming president of Branford Garden Club (BGC). Pat will be inducted to the BGC post for a two-year term on Friday, Dec. 7.
A retired president and current president emeritus of Post University in Bridgeport, Pat started in academia at a time when women weren’t topping college faculty departments or administrations. In the 1980s, she became one of the first women in the state to lead an academic university Business Management Department at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). During her time at CCSU, Pat also became one of a small band of U.S. university educators to bring western business education to then-communist Poland.
True to her academic roots, the Branford resident has thoroughly researched BGC’s history. Pat takes on BGC’s leadership at an exceptional time in the club’s history, its 90th anniversary year. To help mark the occasion, Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove will visit BGC members at their 90th anniversary celebration on Dec. 7, where he will read a proclamation recognizing “Branford Garden Club Week.”
Pat’s also looking forward to bringing BGC’s legendary community service, educational expertise, and other exceptional efforts to the mix of celebrations, events, and activities being planned by the town to mark Branford’s 375th anniversary in 2019.
Praise for Branford Garden Club
Pat counts herself lucky to have become affiliated with BGC nearly a decade ago, and happy to assist with the club’s mission as an active member and officer.
She describes BGC as an organization of many parts, starting with “people who have a love and knowledge of gardening. They really are interested in gardening and sharing that with other people,” says Pat.
“The second part is civic development, and that’s all the things we do around town—it’s just overwhelming what the club does,” she continues. “And the third part is conservation, and our goal there is to educate the community as well as ourselves.”
The club has about 21 committees and a lot of projects underway at any point in time. Pat says club members are still enjoying community feedback from its very successful and ambitious standard flower show, The Sound and the Flora, held Oct. 6 and 7 in Stony Creek, which sold more than 700 tickets, a historic attendance record.
“This show was extraordinary,” says Pat. “Part of it, I’m convinced, was the venue, and the whole community of Stony Creek was so opening and so welcome.”
The other part, of course, was the diligent work of those who led the club in producing the once-every-fourth-year show, required as part of membership in the Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut.
“If you just look at all the committees and all that it took to do this, it shows how we’ve grown,” says Pat, as she pulls out a small yearbook from the club’s 1939 show, which featured 15 different classes in horticulture and design.
“For this show, we 130-some classes! We had over 500 exhibits in horticulture alone; we also had a conservation component, an educational component, [and] all of the different venues of Stony Creek,” says Pat.
It was an exciting time in the club’s history, but Pat also enjoys being involved in the club’s many heartwarming regular efforts, such as providing others with a type of therapy care through floral design.
“For instance, in October, everybody in the club makes a design and we take them to local senior centers or assisted living, for them to enjoy our designs,” she says.
At the annual December meeting, members will bring unwrapped gifts to give to seniors and assisting living residents of Branford, she notes.
“And once a week, our club members also go to the Community Dining Room and put flowers on each one of those tables. And that’s an activity I absolutely love—that’s one of the things that I volunteer for on a regular basis,” says Pat.
Pat says getting involved through BGC gives members a sense of civic pride.
“You feel great,” she says.
She notes club members most recently freshened up Main Street with holiday greens in the lantern baskets BGC maintains year-round. Club members also recently planted hundreds of daffodils in the newest BGC garden, along a Main Street segment in the Fourth Ward.
Pat says she’s proud to continue a long line of committed volunteers who have served as BGC officers, including immediate past president Paula Inglese.
Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Married and a mother of three, Pat’s exceptional career in academia began at a time when very few women were in leadership positions. An educator at heart, Pat’s been teaching full or part-time for some 45 years.
“In business schools, at that time, there weren’t many women,” says Pat, who rose from part-time teaching at CCSU to a tenured full professor, associate dean, and then head of the all-male Business Management Department by the early 1980s. Pat also helped develop CCSU’s first Master of Science in Management program.
“I started out at Central Connecticut, and that’s where I made the Polish connection,” notes Pat, who was head of the Business Management Department faculty at the time. “In the ‘80s, the four state colleges were trying to distinguish themselves; [CCSU] had picked technology and international education. So we kind of carved this area out for ourselves.”
Pat counts herself lucky to have worked with a university president who was “very supportive of faculty members forming international liaisons,” and began the work by reaching out to New Britain’s local Polish community to help make an overseas connection.
“We formed a relationship with Warsaw University. This was in 1983, before the collapse of communism. We brought over faculty from their school of management, and several of us went over there,” she says.
“And then when the collapse of communism occurred in ‘89 and ‘90, we were very well-positioned for grants through the federal government, and we developed programs that were supported,” she says. “One of them was to help the Management Department, which split off from Warsaw University, develop one of the first MBA programs in Poland.”
At that time, Pat lived in Poland for six months, delivering lectures to help bring the “teaching technology and practitioner perspective” to the university program.
“It was not easy at that time, because it was still very much a communist and socialist country,” says Pat.
She says she learned “kitchen Polish” to get by, and especially remembers finding bureaucratic levels at all turns, from mailing a package to buying clothing.
“Everyone had their own job, which they guarded jealously!” she recalls.
The core group of Polish educators with whom Pat worked from the first eventually developed their own university, and Pat became and remains a member of Warsaw-based Kozminski University’s International Corporate Advisory Board.
In October 2018, Pat literally wrapped up volunteering for two days with BGC’s The Sound and the Flora show to travel to the Warsaw university, where she was an honored guest during its 25th anniversary celebration.
“They treat me like royalty over there,” she says, shaking her head. “I guess it’s because I brought them not only grants and expertise, but because we helped them develop connections.”
Taking Risks, Marking More Firsts
In 1992, Pat resigned her tenure at CCSU to become Dean of Business at Siena College in New York.
“Giving up full tenure was a risk,” she acknowledges, adding she felt the new challenge was worth it. “At that time, with 4,000-plus business programs in the United States, there were only 27 female deans.”
Pat fulfilled her role at Siena for the next six years, including helping develop the school’s first MBA program, before she and her late husband moved back to Connecticut and found a home in Branford. Pat also found her next career turn, which led to becoming Post University president.
“I ended up at Post kind of serendipitously,” says Pat, who took a part-time offer to help the school with accreditation work and to help develop new business programs, including building Post’s accredited online presence. She also helped Post develop its first MBA program.
“That part-time position led to vice president and president,” says Pat, who was president full-time through 2008, and then retired and received the title president emeritus.
Pat values her time heading up the university and also thoroughly enjoyed establishing and leading entrepreneurship classes during her teaching time at Post.
Pat enjoys contributing to her community through her efforts on behalf of BGC, and also continues to share her career experience with others as a mentor with New Haven SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives).
“I’ve been a SCORE volunteer for about 20 years. We help people start and grow businesses,” says Pat, adding, “I love volunteering. To me, that’s giving back. I love to help other people.”
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