Community Philanthropist & Global Advocate
Chris Saunders’ tireless efforts to build peace, understanding, and more inclusive communities have impacted the Miami Valley – and the world.
Beginning in the mid 1980s at the height of the Cold War, Saunders as a board member of Crosscurrents International Institute, led ten citizen diplomacy, or people-to-people, trips to the Soviet Union in an effort to bring understanding between our two countries. The U.S. State Department refers to exchanges of this sort as “Track II Diplomacy” and credits them as an integral part of the demise of communism in Russia in 1991.
In 1996, she founded the Miami Valley Episcopal Russian Network (MVERN) and built linkages with a village church near St. Petersburg, Russia. Eventually this became the largest and most active parish partnership in the country with 13 Miami Valley Episcopal and Orthodox churches participating. As MVERN’s president and travel chair, Saunders organized 19 cultural exchanges and mission trips to Russia, taking nearly 300 people, including 118 teenagers to Russia. At the same time, she was a member for 12 years of the Episcopal National and World Mission Commission, which works to transcend boundaries of race, color, politics, and sexual orientation.
For 16 years as the Dayton Art Institute’s volunteer Travel Coordinator for Art Trek, she organized and led 130 art-focused trips, 30 of which involved international travel and connected Dayton travelers with foreign citizens.
Saunders has been on the board of the Dayton Council of World Affairs and was a member of the first civilian delegation to Sarajevo, Bosnia, one year after the end of that tragic war, and later served as a member of the Peace Accords Steering Committee. As volunteer coordinator for the Dayton Peace Museum’s exhibitions, she developed or organized many large exhibitions and programs on topics ranging from the Peace Corps to quilts. She is also an active member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the Junior League of Dayton.
Saunders often describes herself as a “professional volunteer;” her love of music and art led her into both professional and volunteer leadership roles in Columbus, Toledo and Dayton. Her career began as assistant to the director of the Columbus Museum of Art, helping to start their docent program, one of the first in the country. She went on to serve as director of development for the Toledo Orchestra and devoted many years of service to the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, serving as president of the Philharmonic Volunteer Association and chair of the successful cookbook, Mud Pies and Silver Spoons.
Her nominator writes: “Chris is admired and respected by everyone who comes in contact with her and she returns that respect to everyone she meets. She translates her deep convictions and beliefs into actions that benefit the community and the world.”