ROCHESTER — There is one man who has inspired many generations with his generosity.
E. Philip Saunders is known for transforming the truck stop industry with the “Travel Centers of America” and the “Sugar Creek Corporation,” but his contributions to society go far beyond that.
Saunders, of Dansville, has been named the recipient of RIT’s Volunteer of the Year in recognition for his outstanding leadership skills and impact on student success. Saunders was recognized at a ceremony on Oct. 13 at the Brick City Alumni Ball in Rochester.
Saunders College of Business Dean Jacqueline Mozrall said that Saunders has become such an inspiration to her and others since she met him in 2014.
In 2006, RIT’s College of Business was renamed Saunders College of Business after he made a generous donation of $13 million.
Mozrall told the Genesee Country Express that the Volunteer of the Year Award is one of the highest honors an individual can get from RIT.
“When I became the Dean in 2014 I didn’t know Philip Saunders, but I have had the honor of getting to know him ever since,” she said. “I couldn’t be more proud to have his name on our college. He gives so much back to the community.”
Mozrall said she is very grateful to Saunders for believing in the college, and supporting it for a decade.
Saunders came from humble beginnings as he helped his father at the gas station. He would go on to create a service center for truck drivers and other weary travelers.
“Saunders didn’t stop there,” Mozrall said. “He went on to create these service centers all over our country. They are known as the Travel Centers of America. He was so touched by the impact that he created several successful companies.”
The impact Saunders has made on the entire region has been immense, Mozrall added.
Saunders created an E. Philip Saunders Endowed Business Scholarship that a few lucky students get each year.
“He pays for about 80 percent of their tuition,” Mozrall said. “They get almost full tuition paid for. Many couldn’t afford to go to college without that. He is a humble person. I am so proud to have his name on our school. He really is a living legacy.”
Saunders is often seen coming into the college, and spending time with the students he has gifted.
“He is a celebrity around here,” Mozrall said. “When he is in the building the students are very excited to see him. He will sit and talk with the students.”
Saunders also developed the Saunders Challenge at the college, which means he would give them $5 million if the college raised $15 million. The college just completed that challenge this year, and the $20 million will go into making RIT a successful place for years to come.
“That money will go into enhancing faculty and support programs for a long time,” she said. “It was very special for us to complete that challenge.
“He has touched so many lives, and has been a great inspiration to these students,” Mozrall continued. “Many of these students hope to give back to the college someday like Phil does.”
In a video Saunders College of Business shows the “Highway to Success: The Story of E. Philip Saunders.”
In the video Philip Saunders talks about how far he has come, and why he continues to enrich people’s lives in our region.
“All of my friends were farm boys, and I think that really changed my work ethic,” Saunders said. “I saw how hard these guys worked. It was really a great place to grow up.”
Truckers had been concerned there was no place for them to go; Saunders made it possible for them to have the comforts of home.
“They were talking to me about how there is nothing here for us truckers, so it got me thinking about that industry,” he said. “(The) right place at the right time, and a little bit of luck is always good for an entrepreneur.”
A couple of his students talked on the video as well.
Zachary White of Dansville just got a job working for Amazon.
“Mr. Saunders has given me the ability to not only go to college, but to get a degree at a top university,” he said. “I would not have had the opportunity to do this without his inspiration, without his servant leadership back to the community, and without him being a role model for our community. I really really appreciate that.”
Kathleen Ferguson of Dansville also spoke about what this has meant to her.
“RIT really feels like home, and I know that the opportunities that lay ahead are really going to help set me up for success both in my life, and in my career,” she said. “I will forever be grateful. I look forward to giving back in the same way he (Saunders) has.”
Saunders concluded the video with an inspirational message.
“If you get to give back you should give back to the things you believe in, and where you think you are going to make a difference,” he said. “It just has to make you feel good that you are helping young people.”
For more information on Saunders College of Business go to https://saunders.rit.edu/about-overview