As Laney Sanders grows up, she can be sure of two things. One, her father was a real-life superhero — a larger-than-life personality who believed it was his duty to serve his fellow citizens as a First Responder. And two, he loved her mother completely, and he could not have been more proud to be her daddy.
Laney’s not quite 2 years old, but those bedrock certainties will always be there to support her, just like her daddy’s hands would’ve if he were still here.
Nolan Sanders, a North Carolina State Highway Patrolman and WoodmenLife member1, passed away in March 2020, at the age of 28, when his cruiser crashed while he was on patrol.
His passing left a void in his family, his community in and around Dudley, NC, and in the state patrol.
“Our SHP family is devastated by the loss of Trooper Nolan Sanders this evening,” said Col. Glenn M. McNeill Jr., commander of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, in the aftermath of the fatal accident.
“Trooper Sanders personified what it meant to be a trooper. His passing will leave a lasting mark on all who had the honor to work together with him. The coming days and weeks will prove to be difficult, but we will stand with the Sanders family throughout this difficult process.”
Seemingly everyone rallied around Sanders’ family, said his wife, Alexis. That included WoodmenLife.
We believe true heroes deserve more, which is why we pay $25,0002 to families of First Responder members who die in the line of duty.
Especially touching was the community response during Nolan’s funeral procession.
“When we pulled out from the funeral home, the roads were lined for miles and miles on both sides,” Alexis said. “I remember my family in the backseat being so in awe of how amazing it was to see that turnout.
“It really was a blessing to all of us to see how many people came to honor his life and support our family.”
Then came the response from their friends and Nolan’s coworkers. Intent on making sure Laney would know who her dad was, they set out to create memories for her.
Some put together a book called “Letters for Laney,” in which people wrote stories of Nolan. Others put together videos of interviews with acquaintances telling stories about him.
“I think that will be such a great way for her to read and hear those stories and get to know what type of person he was,” Alexis said. “Between those things and the countless pictures and videos our family has, I think she will be able to have a good idea of the wonderful person he was.”
Laney will read and hear how dedicated her dad was to public service.
“When I met Nolan, he had just completed his field training with the state patrol,” Alexis said. “I think his passion for his career was so evident. He was truly a public servant. That was just his nature.”
It came so natural to the five-year state patrol veteran that he also served as a captain with the Indian Springs Volunteer Fire Department.
As much as his public service touched others, Nolan’s big smile and big personality also easily pulled folks into his orbit.
Alexis shared a story as an example. During the 2019 state patrol Christmas party, Nolan was the “star” of every single karaoke song. It didn’t matter the genre, he knew the words and wasn’t bashful to sing them for everyone.
“We all had plenty of laughs,” Alexis said. “Nolan was so outgoing. He brought the fun with him wherever he went. There was never a dull moment when he was around.”
His sense of fun enriched their marriage of slightly more than two years, as did his pride in being her husband.
“He was, in my opinion, the best person I’ve ever known,” Alexis said, “and I guess that’s what made him such a great husband. He kept our life so fun. He loved me and made sure I never doubted that at any point.”
The same was true of fatherhood.
“He was so excited,” Alexis said. “It was the sweetest thing to watch him with Laney. He loved her so much, and he was so good with her.”
And there also was Sarge, the family’s German shepherd, who would ride around in Nolan’s golf cart. An idyllic family life seems to have fit such a committed public servant.
Coming to terms with their personal tragedy has been a challenge for Nolan’s family, but Alexis is working to turn it into a positive. She started a foundation in Nolan’s memory to support families of future North Carolina State Troopers who die in the line of duty.
“Over this past year, our family has been dealt some tough cards, and we’ve had to navigate through extremely difficult situations,” Alexis said. “So, my mission is to be able to help future families and ease some burden during their loss.”
As the years pass, and as Laney grows, Alexis will remember her husband and share that person with her daughter.
“He was a good one,” she said. “Nolan loved people, and he was so very loved in return. He was a friend to so many people, and he had a heart to serve his family, friends and community in so many capacities.
“I’d like to think he would want himself remembered in that exact same way, although he probably would have been too humble to ever give himself that type of credit or recognition.”
Then she smiled, adding that he’d probably think it was cool to have a magazine story written about him and see his family on the cover.
Visit WoodmenLife.org/First-Responders to learn more about our First Responders extra.
We’ve been helping to protect the financial future of families like yours, making a difference in hometowns across America and honoring our country since 1890. As a not-for-profit life insurance company, we put money back into the community. We’re here when you need us most.Learn More About WoodmenLife