X

Kenneth Saunders III, tireless advocate for south DeKalb, dead at 43

Kenneth Saunders III (left) with DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond. FAMILY PHOTO
Kenneth Saunders III (left) with DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond. FAMILY PHOTO

Kenneth Saunders III was a tireless advocate for southern DeKalb County, the type of guy who joined his neighborhood association at 18 years old and never stopped trying to make things better.

He was passionate but kindhearted, quick to encourage conversation in the face of conflict. He was strong in his Christian faith and in the belief that his community deserved more.

Kenneth Saunders III died Saturday from complications of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, his family said.

He was 43 years old.

“The important thing is how he lived,” his father, Kenneth Saunders Jr., said Monday. “And his dad is certainly proud of how he lived.”

ExploreCOMPLETE CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE FROM THE AJC

Saunders III, a graduate of Redan High School, loved technology and enjoyed traveling. But his heart was with south DeKalb.

Over the years, he would become a vice president of the Hidden Hills Civic Association, a group that represents some 1,600 homeowners near Stone Mountain, as well as president of the South DeKalb Improvement Association. He served on DeKalb County's citizen advisory council and, in 2015, was suggested as a possible replacement for county Commissioner Lee May (a classmate at Redan).

Kenneth Saunders III speaks at Liberty Plaza outside of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia on March 4, 2019. FILE PHOTO
Kenneth Saunders III speaks at Liberty Plaza outside of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia on March 4, 2019. FILE PHOTO

That didn’t happen, and a subsequent run for the commission’s District 5 seat was unsuccessful. But Saunders III was undeterred and his advocacy continued.

At the time of his death, he was a member of DeKalb’s zoning board of appeals.

“The things that he did community-wise far exceed anything that you can list,” state Rep. Viola Davis said.

In his various roles, Saunders III advocated for new grocery stores and higher-quality housing. He was also active in the push for a new city of Greenhaven, which he saw as an opportunity to bring economic development to south DeKalb.

“He was very well aware of the community’s struggles and some of the things we had to do to help change it,” said Rod Frierson, president of the Hidden Hills Civic Association.

Saunders III was first hospitalized on April 3, the same day his father returned from the hospital after his own fight with COVID-19.

The younger Saunders, who was believed to be in good health before his diagnosis, was in intensive care for two weeks. Doctors believe COVID-related blood clots are what ultimately took his life, family said.

Saunders III is survived by his parents and two younger brothers. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced but any public services are likely to be limited, given coronavirus-related restrictions on public gatherings.

Kathryn Rice, the leader of the Greenhaven cityhood movement, plans to host her own online tribute later this week. She knew Saunders III for more than two decades.

“It’s a loss to the community,” she said. “A big, big loss.”

ExploreRead and sign the online guestbook for Kenneth Saunders III