Tribute to a beloved captain

Published 8:10 pm Thursday, June 11, 2020

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By JEFF MCDANALD, Special to The Journal

A crowd of about 50 friends and family gathered on the banks of the Kentucky River Sunday afternoon to celebrate the life of Dave Mason Sanders, a former captain of the Valley View Ferry. Sanders piloted the ferry from 2014 until his death from cancer on June 6, 2019.

“Dave understood more about the Kentucky River and its currents and flooding than any man living,” said George Dean, a Valley View Ferry Authority board member who organized the memorial tribute on the anniversary of Sanders’ death.

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“He was a true river man,” Dean said. “He grew up on the river not far from here on Silver Creek in Madison County.”

“Shortly after he started working for us, Dave told me that he loved running the ferry,” Dean said. “It was something that he always wanted to do. When he got sick and found out it was more than just a cold, he had faith that he would be back on the job in a couple of months.”

The Rev. Ronnie Davis worked side-by-side with Sanders following his other passion, spreading the word of Christ.

“Dave told me he couldn’t judge anybody because he was once worse than they are,” Davis, who pastors at Lexington’s Seventh Street Baptist, where Sanders and his wife regularly attended, said. “He was a Christian who loved everybody.”

“Our church is down in the hood,” Davis said. “Dave knew how to talk to those who have lost everything and can’t get on their feet. He showed them the love of God.”

“He wasn’t a saint,” said Davis. “Once upon a time he was a bad boy who’s seen it all, lived it all. He ran moonshine for his dad. He’s seen people killed and knows addiction and pain.”

Dean was quick to point out the type of rigorous credentials required for operating the ferry. “A lot of people don’t realize that to pilot the ferry, you have to have a U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Marine License,” Dean said. “It takes a special person with hundreds of hours of water experience, the same as for operating larger commercial and oceangoing vessels.”

Speakers at the memorial included ferry Capt. Clayton Embly (CQ) and Sanders’ wife, Patricia, as well as Dean and Davis.

Following the service, the Valley View Ferry Authority unveiled a memorial plaque, which was installed on the railing of the ferry.

The Valley View Ferry was founded in 1780, prior to Kentucky’s statehood, and is widely regarded as Kentucky’s oldest continuously operating business.