The history of the Dyson Lumber Company
By Ken Rossignol
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
(The news of the passing of Mary Katherine Dyson Bohanan came late on October 11, 2023. The story below includes remarks by her in contributing to this history of her family and business. Details of service are below.)
The Dyson Lumber Company has been adding new facilities as the Dyson family added new generations of Dysons to run the family business in Great Mills, Md.,
The story of the Dyson family is typical of so many small businesses around the Chesapeake Tidewater region.
Members of the Dyson family have shared with us some of their memories of growing up with the “Mill,” and in turn, so much of this history is also growing up in St. Mary’s County.
Sammy Dyson, LeRoy’s father, began the sawmill operation that led to the establishment of Dyson Lumber Company. During WWII, LeRoy’s father closed the mill while LeRoy served with the U.S. Army in Europe. In late 1945, LeRoy began the mill operation again. Marie looked back in the old original ledger books to 1948 and found that cement sold for $1.15 per bag, 5 gallons of oil for $3.98, a license for a tractor-trailer was $104.00, and a Maryland Forestry license for a sawmill owner and operator was $10.00.
In 1949, a new artesian well was $275.00, and 5 gallons of kerosene was $7.30. In other ways of comparing costs of then and now, LeRoy built a barn for a customer at a total cost of $1052.60. The “Mill” purchased a Rio truck for $1800. In 1956, the first 100-horsepower electric motor in the history of the county began operation at the sawmill, and the electricity to operate it cost $903.08 for the entire year.
After operating the mill only for many years, the Dysons built the first retail store in 1958. The passing years saw the addition of the various material and storage sheds and additions to the retail store, culminating in the latest huge expansion that lets the customer have a vast selection of items for their construction and home hardware needs.
There never has nor likely will ever be a shortage of Dyson family members to help you find what you want or order it for you.
All of LeRoy and Marie’s eight children have worked in the store at one time or another over the years, and many still do. J.C., Mary Katherine, Vi, Lynn, and Steve are all around with spouses, Sandy Dyson (J.C.’s wife) and Marsha Dyson (Lee’s wife), and members of the newest generation hard at work as well.
The new addition itself is an example of a family-built project. We know where they bought their material, but all of the families pitched in to do the labor on the building. Weekends and evenings have been totally consumed for about a year, toiling late into the night to construct the store that makes the operation as well-stocked and competitive as any hardware store in the county. The result is a 12,000-square-foot facility in addition to the row of large storage sheds that contain building materials.
It would be most appropriate to stop here for a moment and tell you how this busy family got started. As with many folks in the area, Marie came to the county with WWII. She was a telephone operator in Salisbury, and the company sent operators from all over the state to help with the effort to get the Navy base at Cedar Point going and staffed with workers. There wasn’t anything in the way of vital services in the county for something as large as the base. Everything was needed.
Marie arrived by Greyhound Bus at Dukes Restaurant in Leonardtown. The phone company had arranged for housing for the employees brought to St. Mary’s. People boarded out rooms and rented virtually anything that could provide housing. Marie’s landlady would be Mrs. Samuel Dyson of Great Mills. LeRoy soon left the war in Europe, and they were married after the war.
Some of the other memories of life around the “Mill” come from Brent Dyson, LeRoy’s first cousin. Brent recalls that the mill sold boards at two-cents a foot, $18 per 1000 feet. There wasn’t much of a market for hardwood in those days, as most people liked pine, which was easier to handle. Brent also remembers that one of the reasons for beginning the retail store was because it became increasingly difficult to locate good tracts of land.
Ike Lee, whose family still runs a mill in Mechanicsville, would haul logs with LeRoy and a hired hand to Leonardtown Wharf for transport by water. LeRoy’s sister, Hazel Knott, remembers LeRoy and his brother Joseph working in the mill and Joseph losing a finger to a saw.
Owning a small business has always been a commitment to toil and the hard work needed to serve customers in the best way possible. LeRoy would saw wood during the day and make local deliveries at night.
Cinder Blocks? Ever thought about where they came from? LeRoy bought a used tractor-trailer and went to York, Pennsylvania, to pick up block until Charles County Block opened its operations.
Cecil’s Store owner, Allan Cecil, would joke with LeRoy that the only way that he (LeRoy) got a vacation was when Marie took all eight kids to her parents for a two-week visit.
Mary Katherine Bohanan, the next to the youngest of the children, recalls that when a big snow came, Route 5 became impassable to traffic and the kids would all go sledding on what quite possibly be the world’s longest sleigh riding hill.
The store’s only employee at that time, Joe McKay (who now operates a nursery business and landscaping service on Rt. 5 near Callaway) would take off and go with the kids, as no customers could get through to the store.
Mary says that at one time, someone stopped long enough to figure out that between LeRoy’s sister, Hazel, and husband, J. Irving Knott, brother Joseph Dyson and his wife, Mary, and Marie and LeRoy, that there were 26 kids in the 3 adjoining houses. The large extended family runs on and on and the team effort that the family puts forth has expressed itself in other areas besides business.
Anyone who has ever attended a Congressman Roy Dyson Field Day knows all about it. The family effort at working to elect Roy first to the Maryland General Assembly in 1974, again in 1978, and then to the U.S. Congress in 1980 is impressive. Then came another five terms in the Maryland Senate for Roy until the voters decided in 2014 that it was time for new blood and elected a Republican.
Of course, the family is assisted in the business now by many hardworking employees.
So, now knowing all this, go by and see the Dyson Lumber Company’s new addition, but be mindful of the area’s propensity for children before you drink the water.
Dyson Family Sets Services for Marie Dyson
Viewing for Marie Dyson, 81, will be held at Holy Face Church on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2006, at 4 p.m. with prayers at 7 p.m. Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Friday at 10 a.m., and burial will take place following the Mass at the Holy Face Cemetery.
GREAT MILLS — The matriarch of one of the largest families in St. Mary’s County, Marie Dyson, died Sunday morning at Georgetown University Hospital, where she was being treated for a major stroke she had suffered two weeks ago.
Marie came to St. Mary’s County as a young woman to work as a telephone operator when the Patuxent River Naval Air Station was built in 1943. She rented a room at Great Mills from John Samuel Dyson and Florence Aud Dyson and soon met their son Leroy Dyson, whom she married, and together they raised eight children: J.C., Lee, Roy, Vi, Lynn, Mary Katherine, Steve, and Patricia.
With 16 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter, Marie never lost count and never stopped knowing their names or needs, finding time for all. Marie would include the date, day of the week, time of birth, and birth weight on the birthday card she would send to each of her family and be able to recite these family stats at a moment’s notice.
Marie was the chief telephone operator of the new central phone system that the Navy brought with them to St. Mary’s County to replace the scattered kitchen-operated system that had been in place, often putting placing phone calls behind making apple pies.
Marie came to St. Mary’s from Salisbury, where she had been raised by her parents, Royden Street Meise and Gladys McFee Meise. She was one of six children and is survived by her sisters, Pat Banks of Salisbury and Hugh Meise of Oklahoma.
In addition to taking care of her family, Marie was back and forth from her kitchen to the kitchens of others, bringing meals to those in need and driving others to the doctor and church. With Leroy, Marie ran the Dyson Lumber Company until their children were old enough to join and take over the business.
Marie Dyson took the time to handwrite the words ‘thank you’ on each and every invoice she sent out every month, keeping the personal touch as her family’s business grew over the years from being a simple sawmill selling some bolts and nails to a thriving building center.
Marie’s dedication to her church, family, and community extended to her major role in politics, as she volunteered in and kept open the Democratic Headquarters in 1974 at Millison Plaza and when her son Roy filed that year for Delegate, printed out her stuffed ham recipe and had it printed on a campaign card, making her contribution to politics legendary for good taste and spicy flavor.
From astronaut and Senator John Glenn to Baltimore luminaries such as Teddy Venetoulis, Gov. Harry Hughes, and Governor William Donald Schaefer, the parade of politicians coming to Marie Dyson’s kitchen and backyard campaign events were colorful but far outweighed by the thousands of folks who had never before been involved in politics but pushed Marie’s son Roy far ahead in the polls as they gave their votes and cooked stuffed hams as well.
With television reporters on her lawn and an endless procession of friends and campaign workers in her kitchen and living room, Marie Dyson presided over a big effort of family and friends who worked tirelessly in Congressman Roy Dyson’s many campaign events, many of which were held in her backyard, with thousands attending to eat beef BBQ and listen to bands.
Whether she was presiding over a Field Day or taking a meal to a shut-in, Marie always had a kind word for everyone and knew which direction to take.
Marie had her finger on the pulse of the community, with the phone ringing endlessly; she also kept a tv tuned to CNN in her kitchen while the police scanner kept her informed of ambulance and fire calls, often the first notice that something might be wrong with a friend or family.
Marie’s own political work involved her long years of participation in the Democratic Club local election campaigns, and in 1992 was elected a Maryland presidential elector who cast a vote in the Electoral College.
In addition to being the mother of Senator Roy Dyson, her son-in-law, John Bohanan, is also an elected delegate from St. Mary’s County. Her son Steve runs a hauling business, her children Vi, Lynn, Mary Katherine, Patricia, and JC run the family business, while Lee recently retired from the United States Capitol Police.
OBITUARY OF MARK KATHERINE DYSON BOHANAN
Mary Katherine Dyson Bohanan, 65, passed away on October 11th, 2023, surrounded by family at her home in St. Mary’s City, MD. She battled cancer valiantly, living a happy life despite learning she was terminally ill. That unwavering optimism was inspirational to fellow cancer patients she met during her 12-year battle.
Mary is survived by her husband, John L. Bohanan Jr., whom she married in 1987 at Holy Face Church, and their 4 sons, Devin, Mark (Katelyn), Brent, and Alexander Truitt. She is also survived by her two cherished grandchildren, Mason and Bryce.
She is also survived by her siblings Roy, Lee (Marsha), Vi (BC), JC (Sandy), Lynn, Patricia, and Steve (Cindy), as well as numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, grand nieces, and nephews.
Born on September 28, 1958, she was the daughter of the late LeRoy Benedict and Marie Meise Dyson. Raised in Great Mills, MD, she and her 7 siblings lived next to two other Dyson families, forming a neighborhood of 26 cousins. She was affectionately known as ‘Kath’ until her younger brother, with difficulty pronouncing, called her ‘Gaff,’ a nickname that stayed for life.
Mary attended Little Flower School before graduating from Great Mills High School, where she served as secretary of the class and finished with the 6th highest grade point average. Mary went on to receive her Bachelor of Science from Salisbury University with honors in 1980. She and many of her classmates remained close friends with many of her high school classmates and met frequently for reunions.
After college, Mary embarked on two cross-country adventures, exploring the beauty of the United States before becoming a Municipal Planner near Denver, Colorado. In 1982, she returned home to care for her ailing father, eventually joining the family business, Dyson Lumber Company, where she thrived and spent most of her career. She spearheaded efforts to modernize the family business by introducing automated technologies and other efficiencies.
Making a difficult career change late in life, Mary bravely launched her own business before discovering her true passion as the Events Manager at Historic St. Mary’s City, where she thrived for the last seven years, earning the admiration of brides, vendors, and customers for her infectious enthusiasm.
Mary was also a dedicated community volunteer, generously giving her time to organizations like Christmas in April and Relay for Life.
Her real passion was her devotion to raising four sons. In addition to taking on most parenting duties while her husband served as an elected official, she actively supported her sons in every school activity or sport they participated in. She spent countless hours volunteering as team mom for football, soccer, swim team, tennis, and wrestling. She even earned an official title as Team Parent Organizer for the US Naval Academy crew team.
Mary found joy in celebrating her beloved friendships, especially through cherished getaways and spending time in Ocean City for beach week each year, a tradition that started 19 years ago with five families and continuously grew over the years.
Mary will long be remembered for her lighting up a room with her smile and positive demeanor. She had the rare ability to make everyone feel special and included. Anyone was welcome to share a meal, lean on her for support, seek her advice, or just soak in her smile. She will be sorely missed by all who were fortunate enough to know her.
The family will welcome friends at Brinsfield Funeral Home in Leonardtown on Thursday, October 19, 2023, at 5:00 PM, with Reverend John Ball leading prayers at 7:00 PM. A funeral service will take place on Friday, October 20th at 10:00 AM at Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Mary’s City. A Celebration of Life is scheduled for Sunday, October 22, 2023, at 12:00 Noon under the Pavilion at Historic St. Mary’s City.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions to the St. Mary’s County YMCA Project, Hospice of St. Mary’s County, P.O. Box 625, Leonardtown, MD 20650 or online at https://giving.medstarhealth.org/medstarhealth/get-involved/donate/hospice or your local Fire and Rescue departments.