Making Something From Nothing

Antonia Florence, assistant editor

His mother died two months after she gave birth to him. His father, unable to raise a newborn baby boy and 10 siblings by himself, gave the baby to his maternal grandparents to raise.

Norman O. Dean, Sr. was born in March 1932, in Greene County, Virginia. This was just before Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration and seven years prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor which culminated in WWII, and in part, brought the country out of The Great Depression. He and his 10 brothers and sisters were all born in a 12-year timespan. Life was hard with little money and little food. “But things were different then. We didn’t have all the things kids have now. We played outside, and we had to work. There was always something that needed to be done,” said Dean.

Times were hard. In fact, Dean quit school at the end of the sixth grade and took a job at a dime an hour thinning corn. When Dean was not thinning corn, he was working in the hay, digging ditches or doing whatever was needed. His wages helped to support the family.

Photography by Antonia Florence

Photography by Antonia Florence

We all have memorable moments in our lives and most of them are good, said Dean. “One of the most memorable experiences of my life was when I was 14-years-old and was the chief witness to a murder. It happened right in front of me. I was riding my bicycle and was crossing the intersection of routes 29 and 33 when I saw a friend. [She] was 16, but I had always known her, so I went over and talked to her. A guy in a lumber hauling truck pulled up to a stop and called the girl over to him. She refused and told him she was not going to talk to him anymore and to leave her alone. The next thing I knew, there was a shotgun coming out of the driver’s window and shot her in the face,” said Dean, “I’ll never get over that.”

At the age of 15, he enlisted in the Army by saying he was older than he was.  He went through training and was given an armband to wear that had the sergeant’s insignia. Of course, it was honorary. “I felt like I was hot stuff wearing it. I would escort the new recruits around for their physicals, haircuts, and wherever else they needed to go,” said Dean. This lasted from August 1942 until they told him that they were going to send him to Korea to fight so Dean told them the truth, which they already knew. He was discharged from the Army that December. Dean was given credit for time served and was paid.

Dean turned 16 the following March and found work in Dundalk, Maryland, at Bethlehem Steel, America’s second largest steel producer and largest shipbuilder. “I loved the work and liked the guys I worked with, but hated being told what to do all the time,” said Dean.

When he found out he was going to be drafted for the war, Dean enlisted this time in the Air Force for four years because he did not want to be on the ground fighting. After his discharge, he went back to Bethlehem Steel spending a total of six years with them. Also during this time, he was repairing and selling televisions from his home.

When the business became lucrative, he left Bethlehem Steel. In 1962, Dean started Dean’s T.V. and Appliances moving it from his house to Wise Ave. in Baltimore. He soon opened three more stores throughout the city. One of his suppliers offered him a week of an all-expense paid trip to the 1967 International and Universal Exposition or Expo 67, which was a Category One World’s Fair being held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, if Dean would buy 100 television sets from him. Dean purchased the 100 television sets at wholesale, sold the sets at his usual profit margin, went to the World’s Fair and enjoyed the trip.

Dean was not one to pass up a chance to make money, and he slowly accumulated rental properties and began other business ventures. “I opened up a honky-tonk nightclub and hired a three-piece band. It seated about 150 people and had a small dance floor with just enough room for couples to get up and dance while they bumped into each other,” said Dean with a smile.

The homeland of his youth called, and in 1973, he returned to Ruckersville where he soon opened another dance hall. After a couple was shot, Dean sold that business and purchased a burned down truck stop. After rebuilding the truck stop and adding a strip of commercial units to the property, the business still remains lucrative. On one end of the property were large bays for people to work on their tractor-trailers, but they sat empty most of the time.

Photography by Antonia Florence

Photography by Antonia Florence

Dean turned the old work bays into rental rooms, which quickly became The Trail Motel with additional buildings. The motel helps to meet the needs of temporary and long-term housing for those in the area, and a place to stay overnight  for travelers passing through.

Always keeping one eye on the present and his other eye on the future, Dean invested in real estate, especially  fronting Route 29. Over the years he has bought and sold property, added commercial buildings, and leased to local business owners and national brands such as Wendy’s and Papa Johns. “I have never lost money on an investment property,” said Dean proudly.

There are many things that make a business successful, but “dishonesty is the worst thing you can do in a business. You have to treat people like you want to be treated,” said Dean.

Now that he is 85, it is time to not necessarily slow down but to do some other things that he wants to do, like travel the United States, especially Florida. “Airfare to Florida is just a little over $200, so I hope to be making that trip more often,” said Dean, “I also want to spend more time at the bay. I’ve been working on the bay house for 40 years, and it’s just about done.” The Dean family has always worked hard using their hands and backs to accomplish their goals. This can be hard and slow, but it saves money.

Even though he still reports to the office and manages the business by phone, he is happily stepping aside. Dean’s daughter and three sons now largely hold the reins. “All of my kids have worked hard their whole lives in the business, and it has not been overlooked. I enjoy having them in the business and happy to turn it over to them- it’s fun. They have been a very obedient family according to the bible,” said Dean.

The Deans hold their faith close to their hearts and have done many things for many people in the immediate community and sometimes beyond. They have done this in a low-key manner because they are not seeking recognition. They want to help people who make an effort to help themselves.


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Posted by on May 4 2017. Filed under From the Forum, Local News, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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