George Bernard Sanders, 74, of Pulaski, Wisconsin, passed away on Dec. 3, 2020, from progressive neurological disease and complications of COVID-19. He was born on June 25, 1946, to Fred and Irene (Cohorst) Sanders in Menominee, Michigan. George was the third of eight children of a Badger Paper Mill family. He grew up on the outskirts of Peshtigo, WI, and was an avid deer hunter, car mechanic, and trick water-skier alongside (or stacked on top of) his brothers on the Peshtigo River. A strong and handsome high school football player, George’s life took a glorious turn in his junior year when he asked Claudia Jean Valitchka, the principal’s daughter, out on a date. The beautiful homecoming queen would become the love of his life, his companion, advocate, and helpmate. George and Claudia married at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Peshtigo on August 26, 1967, and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2017.
Upon graduation from Peshtigo High in 1964, George attended the UW Center-Marinette County and then transferred to the University of Wisconsin in Madison where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in education in 1968. George earned his master’s degree in education from UW-Oshkosh in 1977 and was the recipient of post-graduate National Science Foundation grants that facilitated further study. He was a member of Kappa Delta Pi. His first (and last) teaching job was in the Pulaski Community Schools as the high school chemistry teacher, the position from which he retired 33 years later in 2001. George was a kind, gentle, and highly respected teacher who celebrated the joys and marvels of chemistry and the news of every PHS student who pursued a career in science. During his tenure, he also served as varsity track coach, JV football coach, junior class advisor, and president of the Pulaski Education Association.
One of the most formative experiences of George and Claudia’s life together was his being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1971 during the Vietnam Era and sent to serve in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Already a husband, chemistry teacher, and father of two with a third on the way, he bravely served his country and even tutored fellow soldiers who were studying for their high school diplomas. His enlistment plunged his young family into poverty and he took on additional combat duty at the contentious border for $65 a month. Honorably discharged, George had advanced artillery training and is the recipient of the National Defense Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal.
George and Claudia raised their young family on East Cedar Street in Pulaski until 1983 when they built their home in South Chase on a hill overlooking the Little Suamico River. In this beautiful and sacred place, “Bernie” or “Swede” raised hundreds of pheasants on behalf of the Chase Sportsman’s Club and for his own dog training. He loved and cherished all of his loyal hunting dogs, both German Shorthair Pointers and Weimaraners, including Cannon, Doc, Bo, and Daisy. In 1983 he rescued an abandoned dog from the woods who was nursing a nest of puppies, and Button lived the rest of her life in his compassionate care.
Together in retirement, George and Claudia traveled the world from Hawaii to Alaska, to the Caribbean and England and Ireland. They became very talented ballroom dancers, and were dedicated and active members of Ss. Edward and Isidore Catholic Church in Flintville where they counseled hundreds of newly engaged couples on the FOCCUS marriage preparation program over the course of 33 years. They were members of the Pulaski Food Pantry volunteer corps and board of directors and mentored Bosnian refugee families. All of their children and grandchildren are faithful, confirmed Catholics.
George is survived by his loving wife, Claudia, of Pulaski, Wisconsin; his children, Paul and Jennifer Sanders of Houghton, Michigan; Gina and Eric Larsen of Neenah, WI; and Aleta Young (Paul Warden) of Sobieski, WI; and his eight precious grandchildren: Autumn, Caleb, Noah, and Chloe Sanders; Lydia and Hank Larsen; and Alex and Carrie Young. He is further survived by all of his siblings: Jim and Rita Sanders of Hudson, WI; Ed and Donna Sanders of Bartlesville, Oklahoma; Don and Mary Sanders of South Padre Island, Texas; Francis and Marty Sanders of Peshtigo, WI; Anthony and Jaci Sanders of Sussex, WI; Rita Falsey of Belleville, WI, and Sandy and Matt Singer of Darlington, WI. He is also survived by his siblings-in-law Cynthia and Bill Bomber of Mauston, WI; Luke and Sherri Valitchka of Green Bay, WI; and Matt and Teo Valitchka, of Bozeman, Montana. He was predeceased by his parents; his parents-in-law, Matthew and Ethel Jean (Schomaker) Valitchka; his sister-in-law Rebecca Valitchka, and three nieces, Tonya Sanders, Alison Nadolny Frank, and Natalie Valitchka. George and Claudia faithfully ministered to the needs of their aging parents and also accompanied three special aunts throughout their lives and old age: Helen and Nellie Sanders and Eunice (Valitchka) Johnson. George was blessed with many nieces and nephews.
Friends are invited to gather with the family on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, after 9:30 a.m. at Ss. Edward and Isidore Catholic Church, 3667 Flintville Rd., Green Bay, WI. The Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. at the church, and it will be live streamed on the parish Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Ss-Edward-Isidore-Church-562136803967841. Military Honors will follow by the Pulaski Area Veterans.
Guests will be required to wear a mask and respect social distancing guidelines. No lunch will be served; however, the family plans a summertime celebration when COVID subsides. Since it might not be possible to be with the family in person at this time, please send cards of condolence to the funeral home and write the Sanders family name on the outside envelope. We will forward your cards and messages to the family. Marnocha Funeral Home, P.O. Box 356, Pulaski, WI 54162.
Love God. Cherish your wife. Teach your children. Work hard. Believe in science. Be like George. Your life will be blessed, and it will be a blessing.