James F “Jim” Saunders, Jr. died peacefully in Boulder in the early morning hours of April 9th at the age of 97. He was born in Warwick, VA, the only child of Corinne Madeline (Roger) and James Franklin Saunders. Jim grew up mainly in Newport News, VA, graduating from Newport News High School in 1942. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943, and, after 18 months of training, was assigned to a B-29 in which he was navigator for 10 combat missions. After the war, he worked in the photo lab at Langley Field and joined an Army Reserve artillery unit.
Jim married Marion T Peters in 1950, and they started a family soon thereafter. The GI Bill enabled him to go to college, which culminated in a civil engineering degree from George Washington University. He was soon hired by the agency that became NASA, where he worked on the Mercury, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs before retiring in 1980. Following the birth of their first grandchild, Jim and Marion left Virginia and moved to Boulder in 1983. Colorado was a good fit for so many of Jim’s interests.
Jim was a true believer in living life to the fullest and never lost the joy he found in new experiences, collections and ideas. He loved the lure of the open road, and he relished all aspects of the “Great Outdoors" whether searching for shark teeth along the York River of his childhood or hiking in National Parks, especially in the West.
Jim's interests were wide and varied, and sometimes eccentric (including pastel leisure suits and CB radios). Never one to sit still, he loved trying out new recipes, working in the garden, feeding the birds, and working on jewelry or building model airplanes in his basement shop.
Jim was never bored or boring. He valued education, and if he wasn't busy "doing" he would have his nose in a book. He was a font of knowledge when answering random questions from children. Some of his best answers were extemporaneous and delivered during long road trips. Children soon learned to fact-check these stories before repeating one as unvarnished truth.
Family was very important to Jim. He was especially proud of his four granddaughters, with whom he shared many experiences, and he so enjoyed seeing them become strong independent women. He was rightly proud of his WWII military service as a patriotic duty, and it also fulfilled his dream of flying. He took great pride in his career with NASA, which put him at the forefront of one of the greatest adventures of his time: the US space program.
Jim is survived by Marion, his wife of 72 years; son James F Saunders III (Susan) of Boulder; daughter, Ann Leigh Saunders (Eliceo Gonzales) of Galveston, TX; granddaughters Alyssa Saunders (Blake Macnab) of Portland, OR, Molly Saunders (Brian Pierce) of Longmont, Franny Gonzales (Feng Zheng) of Houston, TX, and Eleanor Gonzales of Salt Lake City, UT; and great-granddaughters Fenix Zheng and Audrey Macnab. Jim will be buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. There will be no public memorial service.