JAMESTOWN — Some people are farmers or mechanics. Others are truckers or teachers. Still more are welders and masons.
Gary Deer Sr., of Jamestown was all of those things — and more. Born and raised at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in the tiny village of Hanging Rock, Ohio, he came north in 1951 with his wife, Lois, in search of a better life. Deer died on July 1, 2020, at the age of 87 after a long battle with complications from Parkinson’s disease. This story, though, isn’t about how he died, but how he lived.
When he first came to Dayton, Deer got a job at AT&T but went on to work nearly 20 years as a machinist with NCR. The Deers raised two children, Gary Jr., and Cathy, in Fairborn, before settling in 1977 on a small farm outside Jamestown where I grew up.
Deer was the original master of the “side hustle,” as it’s known today, making a lifelong career of creatively applying his skills and talents to support his family. Over the years, he hauled scrap iron, worked on cars, drove trucks, and poured concrete.
In the late 1960s, Deer became a teacher of vocational agriculture and heavy equipment mechanics at the Greene County Joint Vocational School (now the Greene County Career Center). The position included advising students in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and his teaching style and fatherly image created a fierce loyalty and respect from them, many of whom became lifelong family friends.
But to many, he may be best known as the “Sawdust Man,” because he started hauling sawdust in 1961 under the name “Gary Deer & Son,” updated to “Sons” when I came along. The business is still operated today by Gary Jr., and supplies sawdust for bedding to some of the most prominent stables and dairies in the area, including Young’s Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs.
Deer never forgot what it was like to grow up with nothing. He and his family always worked to help others, sponsoring families at Christmas, giving to various charities, and helping out those around them however they could. Read the story about the Deer family’s Christmas philanthropy, now free from Amazon Kindle — “A Special Place at a Special Time.”
His family kept him as active as possible in his later years, hanging out with the family band, The Brothers & Co., or attending car shows with their 1967 International show truck. He was a weekly regular at the Antioch Wellness Center where he continued his physical therapy to help maintain his strength and mobility as his Parkinson’s advanced.
We should all try to remember how those we’ve lost stay with us; not from “things” they leave behind, but in how they made us who we are, like a tapestry of life experiences. Dad taught me self-reliance but more than that, he will be with me every time I feel like giving up — because he never did. He showed me, by example, how to use every skill and talent I have to provide for myself and my family.
When I look back later at what I’ve written and documented through photos and videos about my time looking after him, I want to be reminded of what mattered most. Not how he died, but how he lived. He was never perfect, but he was always there. And I guess, in my own way, he always will be. But our lives will never be the same without him. We’ll see you on the flip-side, Sawdust Man.
Lois, Gary’s wife of 60 years, died in 2011 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He is survived by his three children, Gary wife, Diana; Cathy Wolf and husband, Robert; and me and my wife, Barbara. He also leaves behind a sister, Yvonne Kay Hughes of Ironton, Ohio, five grandchildren — Melissa Van Oss, Jessica Simmons, Jodi Castillo, Tiffany Knapp, and Henry Dill, (and their spouses), seven great-grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.
Services are being handled by Powers-Kell Funeral Home Tuesday, July 7, 2020. A public graveside service will be held at Woodlawn Cemetery in Bowersville, Ohio. Viewing/visitation is at 10 a.m. with the service beginning at 11 a.m. It will be followed by a celebration open house at my home, 3604 N. Lakeshore Dr., Jamestown. Call 937-675-6169 for information.
For those wishing to pay their respects from a distance, in lieu of flowers, we request donations in his name to the Parkinson’s Foundation or the Greene County Council on Aging.