Remembering Sara Whitehead Sellers
To the Editor:
Where do you begin the story of a person who has lived a full storybook life? The story of Sara Alice Whitehead began in Butler or Old Butler, which now lies at the bottom of Watauga Lake. Her father, Carson Whitehead, was a veteran of the Spanish American War and was in law enforcement in the town of Butler.
Sara with her family as a result of the Watauga Lake moved to the Central Community specifically on Smalling Road about 1947. Sara graduated from the old Happy Valley High School where she excelled in athletics. As a matter of fact, she is from a family of athletic individuals. Her brother, Paul, was on the Happy Valley team coached by Coach John Treadway that won the state basketball championship. Brother Bob also played basketball for Happy Valley. Brother Bud has won many honors for his softball playing. He played as a senior citizen.
After graduating high school Sara joined the Air Force. After a couple of duty stations, she met the love of her life, Mike Sellers, at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston, Texas. The 18-month courtship resulted in a 62-year marriage with Mike passing in 2017. I asked Sara several months ago if she wanted to use the name Clyde Marion Sellers on the bridge sign. Sara replied: “No use Mike. That’s what I call him every night when I talk to him in prayer.”
Shortly after their marriage, Sara was posted to England and Mike was posted to Bermuda. They were reunited some months later at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. They were fortunate enough to be allowed the same duty stations after Maxwell. The Navy had the slogan “Join the Navy and see the world.”
How about the Air Force for assignments? Korea, Germany, Spain, Okinawa, and Elmendorff in Alaska? A few days ago I asked Sara which duty posting she enjoyed most. Without hesitation, she answered Okinawa.
Sara retired in October 1981 and brought Mike, a South Carolina native, to her beloved Carter County. They retired with the same rank of Chief Master Sergeant, which meant neither could pull rank on the other.
In retirement Mike went into law enforcement because he had security training in the military while Sara spoke to student groups about women in the military and became active in the Republican party. Sara served as the Dist. 3 representative on the Tennessee Republican Executive Committee. Upon her retirement, Anita Hodges Taylor filled the post.
President George Bush appointed Sara to the American Battle Monuments Commission, a federal agency that has oversight in maintaining American cemeteries of our U.S. Armed Forces veterans who are buried overseas. Her duties consisted of visiting, staffing, and maintaining some 26 cemeteries and 30 memorials worldwide. These cemeteries contain the graves of 140,000 of our military and the names of 94,000 missing in action or as in the case of the Navy, those in sunken ships or those buried at sea.
In community work, Mike and Sara were very generous in their retirement income. They supported many non-profit organizations to help those who are less fortunate. Sara was very patriotic — flying our American flag on a flag pole on their lawn.
Rest in peace Sara Alice Whitehead Sellers.
Charles D. VonCannon