April 2014
In the News

Stockyard Idol

Darrell Sanders, second from left, was honored at a Mid State Stockyards event in February. Honoring him were three men he has mentored most of their lives. From left are Scott Garrett, Dick Farrior and Billy Younkin.

Darrell Sanders honored at Mid State Stockyard
for service to the industry

Senior citizens may wonder at times if their lives have been worthwhile and if they are leaving behind something of value.

Darrell Sanders doesn’t have to worry about that because his guidance and mentoring have helped produce three sterling success stories - Scott Garrett, Dick Farrior and Billy Younkin.

The three friends are partners at Mid State Stockyards, a business Sanders helped them create a decade ago just off I-65 south of Montgomery.

Darrell Sanders hugs Stacy Casey, left, and Rebecca Loftin who handle administrative duties at the Mid State Stockyards.

To say the three idolize Sanders would be putting it mildly because they view him as a cross between two American legends - actor John Wayne and football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.

"He’s been like a father to each of us and has helped us better understand the stockyard business, especially when it comes to buying and selling cattle," Younkin said.

A modest man who likes to spread compliments around to others involved in the same business, Sanders still takes pride in his contributions to the industry.

That’s why the people who know him best got together at the stockyards back in February to honor him and his many contributions to the cattle industry in Alabama.

It was billed as a retirement/appreciation event on an auction day when hundreds, sometimes thousands, of cattle are bought and sold in the main arena.

The entrance to the stockyards was filled with "retirement" signs such as "Gone Fishin’" when Sanders and Cullene, his wife of 50 years, arrived at the facility.

If it was intended to be a surprise party, it was anything but. Word slipped out and the couple had a chance to prepare for the celebration.

Younkin, who also is one of the auctioneers at the stockyards, took time out for a few minutes to salute him. During the proceedings, a plaque was presented to Sanders who shook many hands that day.

It’s unlikely the 74-year-old Sanders will ever retire. He enjoys it too much to rock away his golden years. That’s why his fans added "appreciation" to the invitations to attend the event.

"I’ve been involved with cattle and stockyards for more than 50 years," he said, during an interview with Cooperative Farming News at an appropriate venue - Mid State Stockyards. "I’ve never gotten rich from it, but that never bothered me."

Sanders believes Mid State is the largest stockyard operation in Alabama, selling up to 85,000 head of cattle annually. Garrett, Farrior and Younkin are quick to credit him for his helping hand.

"He’s always guided us the right way, especially helping us to build this business from the ground up," Garrett said. "What he did was put the infrastructure in place. Without him, we wouldn’t be here today."

Born and raised at his family farm near Andalusia in Covington County, Sanders quickly became familiar with row crops, hogs and cattle. He learned from his father Thomas Sanders, who also worked for the U.S. Forestry Service and dabbled in land transactions.

A stroke at the age of 52 sidelined his dad and his son returned home from Troy University and joined his two older brothers to run the farm where the family specialized in row crops. Darrell never took a liking to it, preferring instead to focus on cattle even if he possessed only rudimentary knowledge of that business at the beginning.

"The only thing I knew about cattle when I started was that I liked beef," said Sanders, who eventually did well in accounting and used it later to help him with his own cattle connections.

Working for Kennett-Murray Co. provided details when it came to working with cattle and those memories have never left him.

"We’d work late at night sorting and shipping cattle all over the country," he recalled about those days back in the mid-1960s. "It was hard work at a time when there were stockyards everywhere in Alabama. Now, most of them are gone. We don’t have many left."

Working at Hooper Stockyards provided even more lessons for Sanders. Driving long distances was part of the job and it wasn’t unusual for him to put up to 1,500 miles a week behind the wheel.

"I worked across north Alabama and into Georgia and Florida when I had to," said Sanders, who didn’t have to be reminded about row crops back at his family farm.

He didn’t want to go back to that. Cattle became his life instead and during the past half century he hasn’t had many, if any, regrets attached to them.

"What I’ve liked best about being involved with cattle all these years is the fact it’s an honorable business," he said. "A man’s word was all you needed back then."

What he detests is favoritism in any form, especially at stockyards where he would see it happen at times.

"I’ve never tried to help one cattleman over another," he said. "You treat a man with one head the same as somebody with 100 head. You don’t move a man to the head of the line at the stockyards because you happen to like him."

Avoiding favoritism was just one of many lessons Sanders taught Garrett, Farrior and Younkin when the Mid State Stockyards was born 10 years ago.

"I’ll do anything in the world for those boys," said Sanders, who is also quick to brag about the couple’s two children and twin grandchildren. "I tell people they’re my adopted sons and I really feel that way about them."

The three Mid State partners have never called him by just his first name. It’s always "Mr. Darrell" and the respect they have for him is evident whenever they speak to him.

Being raised during another time in America taught Sanders lessons he was happy to pass along to Garrett, Farrior and Younkin.

"He still has that work ethic that people of his generation had," Younkin said. "He’s always going to be on time and when he tells you he’ll do a job, he’ll do it better than anybody else."

Although Sanders has never become a partner in the stockyards, he has worked as hard as anyone in making it a success.

"He knows the nuts and bolts of what makes a stockyards successful, and his accounting experience has always been invaluable to us," Younkin said.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.