Dennis Harold Sawyer was born July 16, 1931 in Arkadelphia, Alabama. He passed away on April 7, 2023 in his home of many years in Siler City surrounded by his son, Michael Sawyer and his daughter, Gina Sawyer Tessener along with other loving family members who visited with him during his final days.
Dennis was preceded in death by his beloved wife and life companion, Nina Sanford Sawyer. He loved her more than anything. Their relationship began when they were high school sweethearts and their love never wavered.
Dennis brought himself up through the most humble of circumstances. His mother, Mayzepple Burger, set the example of thorough work ethic, entrepreneurship, relationship building and soaring intellect.
At age eight, Dennis began his own entrepreneurial endeavors when he started a paper route and quickly turned it into a business by hiring his friends to handle routes that he acquired. He later used earnings from the paper route to pay for his college education.
An accomplished student, Dennis graduated as valedictorian of his high school, college, and law school. While in college, he joined the Air Force with the dream of becoming a pilot. During testing however, Dennis learned he was color blind and never got to fly. Instead, he was stationed as a quartermaster in Cheyenne, Wyoming. After his time in the service, he obtained his B.A. from Birmingham Southern. Later, he enrolled in law school at the Birmingham School of Law while working at Jim Dandy Dog Food.
After law school, he continued working for Jim Dandy Dog Food before going to work for the Wells Division of the National Pet Food Company in Illinois. Between 1972 and 1974, he increased sales of the Wells Division by 100% and increased profits 1,847%.
Dennis moved to Siler City in 1974 to take over operations of Siler City Mills. He quickly grew the company which, due to his leadership, became largest producer of animal feed east of the Mississippi. He was known throughout the country for his leadership in feed production and management and for his loyalty to and from his co-workers.
After Dennis retired from Siler City Mills at the early age of 54, he was selected as part of a delegation to China to teach manufacturing techniques. After retiring from the mill, he taught Park Scholars from NC State, mediated disputes at the local Community College, and then bought the two rival hardware stores in Siler City.
Siler City Ace Hardware was Dennis’ greatest venture. The store was more than a business to the Sawyers, it was a family environment that he and Nina built and loved dearly. Their kids and grandkids worked at the store running the cash registers, helping customers and sweeping the floors. Dennis and Nina cared for the store’s employees as if they were family. A sign outside of the office at the store said “Free Advice” and he had an open door policy giving advice to friends, family, or anyone who asked him for help.
Dennis loved Siler City and contributed to the community in many ways including spearheading the creation of murals throughout the town as President of the Siler City Mural Society, serving as President of the Chatham Hospital Board, and being active in the Rotary Club. He was a stalwart member and supporter of Siler City Methodist Church where his children were married and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren were baptized.
Dennis and Nina were long time members of Siler City Country Club. Dennis took up golf in his forties. He was a clutch player that never missed a high pressure putt. Dennis and Nina held an annual Frogmore Boil party during the Member-Guest tournament that was a highlight of the year. The party brought together family and friends from all over. Dennis was renowned for his betting techniques at the annual member-guest Calcutta tournament.
In a life lived worthy of celebration, Dennis and his loving wife had marriage of over 60 years. Together they raised two wonderful children, Michael Sawyer (Carol) and Gina Sawyer Tessener (Chris), and had six grandchildren, Lindsey Sawyer Norman (William), Cameron Tessener, Nicholas Tessener (London), Nina Michelle Sawyer Passmore (Brian), Madison Tessener Antami (Kameel) and Mack Sawyer, and had eight great-grandchildren.
Dennis will have a lasting legacy and will be remembered for his economic and community impact, his intelligence, business savvy and milestone accomplishments in life. His family will remember his booming laugh, mischievous spirit and how he strove to give them all a better life through love, hard work, advice and constant self improvement.
The visitation will be held Monday, April 10th from 6:00pm-8:00pm at Smith & Buckner Funeral Home and the funeral service will be Tuesday, April 11th at the First United Methodist Church at 2:00pm with the graveside service to follow immediately after at the Chatham Memorial Park. The family asks that you send remembrances or donations to Gentiva Hospice, First United Methodist Church or flowers for the service.
Smith & Buckner Funeral Home is assisting the Sawyer family.