DESTINATION: SANFORD

Hometown is 'the whole package' for some natives who never left
Jun. 13, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

You can't choose where you're born, but you can choose where you settle down and raise a family.

What about those who claim Sanford as their birthplace — and their current home?

"I have very deep roots here," said lifelong Sanford resident and former North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dennis A. Wicker, who has lived in the same house since the day he was born. "All my life, I've never had a different home."

Wicker, for whom Sanford's civic center is named, was elected lieutenant governor in 1993. He said there was an expectation that he would move to Raleigh to be close to the Capitol and Legislative Building. But Wicker chose to stay in Sanford and commute instead.

"There were some downsides to not living in Raleigh with the demands of that office and my schedule," he said. "I put in long days and long nights and traveled a lot. But because of my strong attachment to Sanford and my home place, my wife and I decided to stay in Sanford with our children. And we've never regretted it."

Wicker said Sanford has a lot going for it, noting it is within striking distance of the major cities like Raleigh and Greensboro, an hour from the North Carolina Zoo and two and a half hours from both the beach and the mountains.

"I mean, how many people can say they live 25 miles north of a U.S. Open golf course." he asked. "You have plenty of recreational and cultural opportunities here, but you don't have the congestion or the crowded feeling you get in bigger cities. You have places you can go that are open-spaced and peaceful."

Wicker said he has a lot of history in North Carolina, especially Lee County, and he has never found a place that captivated him as much as Sanford.

"It has the whole package of what people look for in quality of life," Wicker said. "I have been a beneficiary of that quality of life, and I'm much better for it."

Joe Lawrence also has lived in Sanford his whole life. It was not always his plan to remain in his hometown, but when Max Heins offered him a job working with accounting and purchasing systems for Heins Telephone Company, he accepted.

"I had taken an exam to be a government employee," Lawrence said. "I passed it and was waiting for them to notify me of an opening. About a year-and-a-half later, I was offered a government job. I would have had to move if I accepted, but by then I knew I wanted to stay in Sanford."

Lawrence's position with Heins, which he held for more than 60 years, was the only full-time job he ever held. Lawrence, now 84, retired 20 years ago, but he has continued to remain active in Sanford.

"I dealt with the people of Sanford for my work," Lawrence said. "I like the people. When I was working, I thought Sanford had the best business climate. I enjoyed working with Sanford business people. A lot of those people are my friends in retirement."

Lawrence said Heins allowed him to mix his career with his community in a way that strengthened his attachment to both.

"We worked for the betterment of the community," he said. "Most employees were community-oriented. The company asked its employees to be active parts of the community. I built a lot of lasting relationships."

Lawrence said he has traveled around the world, but he always finds himself back in the town that raised him.

"I still haven't found a place I want to live other than here," Lawrence said. "I enjoy going, but I certainly enjoy coming home."

Wicker and Lawrence both feel that Sanford's exceptional quality of life stems from the exceptional quality of the people who call the city home. They have watched neighbors, clients, coworkers and church members come together and become close friends right before their eyes.

"It's a community where people welcome each other," Wicker said. "And as a result of that, I was able to grow up and learn. I want to give back like people gave back to me when I was growing up. I want to look after other folks like people looked after me.  This is a city that teaches you to leave whatever you have in better shape than when you got it. That's the culture and spirit of our community."

Coming next: In Saturday's Herald, read about people who left Sanford only to find that something was missing — that life away from their hometown just wasn't the same.