Saunders family to lead Mud Bowl parade

The 39th annual Tournament of Mud Parade, taking place Sept. 10, in North Conway Village, will honor the Saunders family of White Mountain Oil & Propane as grand marshals. A highlight of the annual Mud Bowl weekend, Sept. 9-12, the parade will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, with a dozen mud football teams entering floats using the theme, “Primetime Muddy Events.”

The parade has been sponsored since its inception in 1981 by Amoskeag Beverages LLC of Bow. Prizes are offered for first, second and runner-up in both the team and open class. The grand marshal award is named after late Mud Bowl chair Steve Eastman (1949-2008), who published the Mountain Ear newspaper from 1976-2005. White Mountain Oil & Propane sponsored the town’s Independence Day Parade this year, so it makes sense the Saunders will get to ride at the front of this year’s Mud Bowl parade in recognition of their community efforts.

Members of the family-owned business include former president and now company secretary/treasurer Glenn Saunders, 82, and his wife, Sonnie, of North Conway; and sons Kirk, 53, of North Conway (named president three years ago); and Vice President Mark Saunders, 56, of Wolfeboro. Kirk and Mark will represent the family in the parade. Mark said his wife Kelly and Kirk’s daughter Sophie may join them.
Mark said: “We as kids used to go to Mud Bowl, as it was a traditional end-of-summer, beginning-of-school kind of thing. We loved it.” He added: “We’re very happy to help with the event, and we’re honored to represent our family and business as grand marshals.”

The family was also awarded the MWV Economic Council’s Bob Morrell Award for civic entrepreneurship in 2021. Kirk noted: “My grandparents Ben and Ethel founded the company in 1941, just after the Great Depression. Those were rugged times, and people like the Jean Fernandezes (former president of North Conway Bank) and others saw to it that my grandfather kept going in business. “That knowledge instills in you the idea that when things are tight, and you have an opportunity to help out other individuals (like Bob Morrell did), it behooves you to do so,” he added.

According to Mark: “It’s pretty neat to be part of the family’s legacy of serving the community and customers and to be part of this great staff that we have who are so committed. Our business really is like a big family.”
Their grandparents set a leading example of serving the community, with Ben serving on the North Conway Park Commission; as president of the North Conway Community Center; and the Lower Bartlett Cemetery Committee.
Ethel was a Cub Scout den mother and also served on the board of directors of the Memorial Hospital.
Ben and Ethel were Appalachian Mountain Club members and climbed all the 4,000-footers in New Hampshire. Ben had a love of aviation, learning to fly from White Mountain Airport owner and operator Wylie Apte Sr. in the 1940s.
Like them, their son Scott Saunders was instrumental in the success of many local organizations and served as president of Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, Gibson Center and Rotary. Just 58, shortly after entering retirement, he died in 2001.
His brother Glenn serves on the advisory group to the Robert and Dorothy Goldberg Foundation; Henney Historical Fund; and the Pope Memorial Library. He is a former longtime board member of the Gibson Center for Senior Services.

At the suggestion of former Kennett Principal George T. Davidson, he co-founded the Kennett High Sports Hall of Fame with Sut Marshall and Lloyd Jones in 1990.
Sonnie (who is originally from Austria) met Glenn during an exchange program when Glenn studied in Europe. They became reacquainted after college in 1964 and married shortly thereafter.
Sonnie served as a teacher’s aide at John H. Fuller Elementary when their sons were young and later served as president of the North Conway Library. She is a member of the Mountain Garden Club.
Kirk serves on the National Petroleum and Gas Association’s standards and technology committee and on the research and development committee for the Propane Educational Research Council.
Mark is a director for the Propane Gas Association of New England and the Ideal Energy Cooperative Board of independents in the energy business.
The company’s motto is, “Always there for you” — and despite the volatile ups and downs in the energy industry, they remain committed to fulfilling that promise to customers.

It goes back to the company’s founding in 1941, when it delivered range oil to houses, farms and businesses around the region.
In 1949, White Mountain Oil built an office and showroom on South Main Street. It also entered the propane business. In the 1950s, the company’s current North Conway Village office and showroom were built.
In the late 1990s, the company installed a state-of-the-art propane and fuel-oil storage facility in Conway.
In the mid-2000s, the company completed the construction of a new propane storage plant in Campton. In 2014, the Saunders family opened a storefront/office in Lincoln.
In addition to the company’s reputation for reliable service, for 38 of the past 40 years, it has held an annual Bratwurst Broil and Open House, traditionally in June and featuring Sonnie’s recipe for Austrian sausages They and their staff and customers look forward to its return when conditions permit.