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Cape pioneer, city historian, Paul Sanborn passes at 93

By Staff | Jul 16, 2017

Long-time Cape Coral resident Paul Sanborn, the city’s official historian, passed away Friday afternoon, July 14, after suffering a severe stroke Tuesday, July 11. He was 93.

Sanborn moved to Cape Coral in 1962 to work as the assistant to the managing director for the Rosen brothers and Gulf American Land Corporation, the developer of the community. While working for Gulf American, he also managed the yacht and country club and served as director of industrial development and community relations.

There were just 1,100 people living in the Cape when he arrived, Sanborn said in in interviews with The Breeze, and, as the years passed, he saw the community grow to more than 160,000.

Years ago, Sanborn said of the Rosens, “Their philosophy was, ‘Build it and they will come,’ and they did.”

After leaving Gulf American, Sanborn entered the banking industry at Cape Coral Bank, the only bank in the city at the time. He went on to work a several other banks before he retired in 1993.

Always active in the community, even up to the time of his death, Sanborn was a past president of the Rotary Club of Cape Coral, the Cape Coral Historical Society/Museum board of directors and the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral. He also served on the Lee County Mosquito Control District board.

He also sat on the Cape Coral Hospital board of directors, and was instrumental in helping start the first church in the city and the building of the community’s first high school – Cape Coral High School.

Sanborn was also named Citizen of the Year – twice.

And, in 2008, he was named the second recipient of the Elmer Tabor Award as the year’s outstanding Cape philanthropist.

In March, the Celebrate Cape Coral Night Parade was held, marking the 60th anniversary of the land purchase and development of what would become Cape Coral. Sanborn was named grand marshal.

At the time, Donna Meola, the executive director of the South Cape Hospitality and Entertainment Association, which organized the parade, said of Sanborn, “He really is Mr. Cape Coral.”

While he admitted that he had been in parades before, of the Night Parade, he said, “… this is a highlight because we’re recognizing the early days of Cape Coral. I am highly honored to be named grand marshal.”

A World War II veteran, Sanborn enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on Dec. 7, 1942, training to become a crew member on a B-24 bomber. By the time he and his crew were ready to go to war however, it had ended. He was discharged in January 1946.

“I always say, not that I count,” Sanborn said in February, “but I served three years, one month and 13 days. We flew for two years training. I don’t know if we were that good.”

In February this year, Sanborn and eight of his friends from the Cape Coral Rotary, of which he was a founding member, were treated to a flight on a B-24 Liberator, brought to Page Field in Fort Myers as part of the Wings of Freedom tour. The flight was in honor of Sanborn and Tom Bowen, a fellow Rotarian and B-29 crew member who had recently died.

In February 2011, the city held a special birthday party celebrating Sanborn’s 90th birthday in the park named for him.

Then Mayor John Sullivan spoke at the event, reading a list of Sanborn’s accomplishments that was 15 pages long.

“(Sanborn) spent years helping others and to make Cape Coral a better place to live,” Sullivan said. “He is the example of what it means to care for the community.”

At the same celebration, City Manager John Szerlag said, “(Sanborn) is a part of Cape Coral’s evolution. The Rosen brothers may have founded Cape Coral, but Paul fathered it.”

To help educate residents and newcomers about the city’s early days, Sanborn and his friend Elmer Tabor, who said he met his mentor when he was just 7 years old and a new resident to the fledgling city, often gave presentations to local clubs and organizations about the past.

Complementing his good friend in 2008, Tabor said, “He made something happen in Cape Coral when there was nothing. He’s responsible for the quality of life we have all come to know and love.”

Back in 2010, as he looked back to the city’s beginning, Sanborn said that he enjoyed seeing something that started “from absolutely nothing and became one of the largest cities in the state because of what we did in the early days.

“I feel proud that I had something to do with the starting of the city … not that many people have that opportunity,” he added. “Gulf American did a magnificent job.”

On Feb. 19, 2015, Sanborn lost Mildred, his wife of 70 years. They were married in 1944 in Alexandria. In 1958 they moved to Kissimee, Fla., and then to Cape Coral in 1962.

Survivors include three daughters, Carol Weniger, Donna Sanborn and Mary (David) Rieser, five grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.

The funeral will be held 10 a.m. Friday, July 21, at Faith Presbyterian Church, 4544 Coronado Parkway, Cape Coral with the Rev. H. Timothy Halverson Officiating. Burial with Military Honors will follow at Fort Myers Memorial Gardens. The family will receive friends for visitation Thursday, July 20, from 5- 8 p.m. at Fuller Metz Funeral Home, 3740 Del Prado Blvd. S. Cape Coral. In lieu of flowers memorial contributions may be made to Faith Presbyterian Church, Rotary International Foundation or the Cape Coral Historical Museum. Expressions of sympathy may be made online at www.fullermetz.com.