Everyday Hero: 94-year-old veteran honored for counseling services in Apopka community

By Julie Gargotta, Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, December 12, 2017, 10:47 AM EST

He’s 94 years old — a veteran of not one, but three wars.

  • Veteran provides counseling services to Apopka community
  • Enlisted in the Air Force after Pearl Harbor attack
  • Church celebrated Sandy's mental health services

Yet one Seminole County man still dedicates his time to helping others.

“I enjoy what I do, and I want to keep on doing it," said Sanford "Sandy" Graves.

Several times a week, Sandy heads to the Forest Lake Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Apopka in order to provide counseling.

“So many people have mental health problems but can’t afford to go to other people and pay for it," he said. “We service the community, anybody who has a mental health problem.”

Sandy's door remains open to not just those within the church family, but the greater community of Apopka and beyond.

“There’s people who can’t go otherwise. There are many, many people who come, that’s the only help they have," he said. "Matter of fact, they have come as far away as Miami and Tampa."

The church pays him a meager stipend, a few hundred bucks a month, and in his downtime, the man also volunteers.

“[I] give lectures or discourses on things having to do with mental health, stress, depression," he explained.

Yet, this is Sandy’s second chapter; His first began with enlisting in the Air Force right after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“I have to admit, there’s a sense of duty. I kind of thought me, or people like me, doing what I was doing was needed," he explained. “It was a feeling of patriotism that swept the country that we haven’t had since.”

Thirty-seven years later, after World War II, Vietnam and Korea, the pilot — and later Colonel — hung up his wings. He retired from the military only after some important meetings.

“I met two presidents, Kennedy and Johnson," he said.

Both meetings were timed. The first, with JFK, lasted for only a minute. The latter, with Johnson, went on for much longer, as Sandy briefed the president on nuclear weapon safety.

“President Johnson particularly had some incisive questions," he recalled. “He got very interested in the subject we were talking about. He kept going quite a bit longer than 15 minutes.”

Back in Central Florida, Sandy started a family and attended the University of Central Florida, becoming a psychologist.

He later published a book about his military experience entitled "The Surly Bonds of Earth." And in his spare time, Sandy practices French.

“It’s hard to keep up with him sometimes," said Candy DeVore, Sandy’s daughter. “He’s exceptional in everything he does.”

DeVore said that she’s always been proud of her military dad, realizing early on the "sacrifices [her dad] made" as she watched him head to Vietnam.

Then, this past Veterans Day, the church applauded the 94-year-old’s work and years spent both on the battlefield and in the ministry, giving him a plaque and treating him to lunch.

And while he was skeptical about receiving more recognition, as Spectrum News 13's Everyday Hero, others are certain that it's deserved.

“Even though he’ll tell you he’s not a hero and hasn’t done anything special, I’m tell you, he is," DeVore said. “I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me and said what a difference your dad has made in my life.”