Mary Irene (Divens) Saunders

September 23, 1929 ~ March 25, 2021 (age 91)


Mary Irene Divens Saunders passed away on Thursday, March 25, 2021, at Covenant Place Retirement Community in Sumter, SC.

Born to Marcella and Charles Vogle Divins on September 23, 1929 in Sligo, PA, she led an extraordinary life.  After graduation from high school, she attended Indiana State Teacher’s College, majoring in Music.  However, before she graduated, she left school to take a position teaching elementary school.  After enlisting in the Air Forces’ WAF program in 1949, she was sent to Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX, for training.  When she heard the call for musicians, she immediately volunteered.  As a Private First Class in the US Air Force, she was the first director (and unit first sergeant) of the 18-member Women’s Air Force (WAF) Band.  After meeting her future husband Thomas Howard Saunders, she left the United States Air Force at the rank of Sergeant.  While raising her future children and supporting her husband, she found time to volunteer with the local Red Cross at the Shaw AFB Pharmacy; she was a 50-year member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) as the Registrar for the South Carolina State Society and Regent of Sumter’s Home Chapter; longtime member of the Daughters of the American Colonists (DAC) and active member of the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War (DUVCW); she played clarinet in the Sumter Community Concert Band (sometimes conducted the band), played cutthroat bridge, and even earned her bachelor’s degree in Accounting from The University of South Carolina – Sumter. She was also a charter member of the Women in Military Service for America (WIMSA) Memorial Foundation.

Surviving her are her sister Joan Harland, her sister-in-law Thelma Divins, and her children, Thomas Howard Saunders Jr., Lt Col, USAF (Ret) and his wife Susan, Cindy Saunders Beeson and her husband George, Capt USAF (Ret), Tamara Lynn Saunders, and Lorrie Michelle Saunders; five grandchildren, Thomas Howard Saunders III and his wife, Kate, Jessica Saunders Cooley and her husband, CMSgt Scott, Dr. Michael David Beeson, Sgt US Army (Ret) and his wife, Roxanne, Mark Andrew Beeson and his wife, Tanya, and Austen Glenn Bingham and his wife, Hannah; and nine great-grandchildren, Coryn Renee Cooley, Clayton Lee Cooley, Aidyn Katherine Saunders, Taylor Nicole Beeson, Gorman Owen Beeson, Thomas Connor Beeson, Meredith Ann Beeson, Phoebe Kate Bingham, and Jack Bingham.

She was preceded in death by her parents; her brother Charles Divins, and her husband of over 60 years Thomas Howard Saunders Sr.

A graveside service with full military honors will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at Fort Jackson National Cemetery, officiated by the Reverend Michael (Mike) Hatfield.

In accordance with her wishes, the family will not be receiving guests.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Tamassee DAR School, 1925 Bumgardner Drive, Tamassee, SC  29686; or to the charity of one’s choice.

You may go to and sign the family’s guest book.

The family has chosen Bullock Funeral Home of Sumter for the arrangements.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Mary Irene (Divens) Saunders, please visit our floral store.


Graveside Service
April 2, 2021

1:00 PM
Ft. Jackson National Cemetery
4170 Percival Rd
Columbia, SC 29229

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