John Marshall Sawyer was born in a Greene farmhouse in 1874. One of six children, he quit school at 16 to start working in Portland. Soon after, he moved west and landed in Montana, where he was a sheep rancher and started an empire of 28 dry goods stores.

With his fortune, Sawyer moved back to Greene and started The Araxine Wilkins Sawyer Foundation in honor of his mother, Araxine Wilkins Sawyer, in 1935.

Araxine Wilkins Sawyer was a local teacher and, according to the by-laws of the foundation, “was of a cheerful, happy disposition, sympathetic and charitable.” It was with these qualities in mind that Sawyer started the foundation.

The Araxine Wilkins Sawyer Memorial Building was dedicated on Sept. 10, 1937, and in the ensuing 76 years, has hosted a wide variety of social and community events.

“They used to have things like bean suppers and whatnot,” said Don Rose, current executive secretary of the foundation who has held the position since December 1998. “The foundation also hosted the grammar school graduation until the 1960s and GED graduations until about 10 years ago.”

Now, the foundation hosts twice-monthly programs April through November on Fridays at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. that are always free and open to the public. The final program of the season will be held on Nov. 1, and will be a talk by Bill Behrenbruch about his travels via single-engine airplane across Mexico.

“The Steinway (piano) on the stage is John Sawyer’s wife Annie’s,” said Rose. “One of his daughters is still alive and just turned 100. That would be June.”

Much of the building at 371 Sawyer Road in Greene, which sits across the street from Sawyer’s mansion, is original. Few things have been updated and the 501c3 nonprofit runs on the interest from the funds Sawyer set aside all those years ago.

“His mother was a great influence in his life and as a tribute to her for whom he had the deepest regard and admiration he built the Araxine Wilkins Sawyer Memorial Building,” reads the by-laws of the foundation. “His ambition always was to make the town of Greene a better place in which to live.”

For more information and to see a list of programs, visit www.sawyer-foundation.com.


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