From Prosperity to Lebanon, Dewey Fite hasn't come too far, maybe 27 or 28 highway miles, during his 97 years.

From Prosperity to Lebanon, Dewey Fite hasn't come too far, maybe 27 or 28 highway miles, during his 97 years.

But those familiar with the congenial soul, who was raised in the southeast corner of Wilson County, know that along the winding path he touched a multitude of lives for the better.

Born in a log house on April 21, 1918, Dewey was Daniel and Violet (Jennings) Fite's seventh and last child. The old home place had no electricity, no telephone, much less any other modern conveniences, but it was a home that generated such principles as honesty, faithfulness and the Golden Rule.

"He's very much known for his integrity. He wants to be sure he's done right by other people. If there's any doubt, he will just give in rather than try to figure out who's right or who's wrong. Even when things are stressful, he has a sense of humor and a kind word for other people," said Fite's daughter, Neva Midgett, of Lebanon.

"I have run into people who told me when they were down on their luck if it weren't for Dewey Fite they might not be where they are today."

The most valuable life lessons she has learned from her father?

"I would say the way he treats everybody as valuable. His word has always been good enough and still is. He is just such a good man."

Life on the farm proved an environment where work came first for Dewey and his siblings. One lesson that taught him was there must be a better way to earn a living. He excelled in more than one vocation.

"I've had three careers: six years in chemistry, 20 in the restaurant business and 48 years in real estate," said Fite.

A resident of Hearthside, he departs each day at 10 a.m. for Lebanon Health and Rehab where he attends to his wife Miriam until 4:30 p.m. Fite keeps his cell phone handy, which he uses for sending and reading text messages.

"I was the tallest in my family," he grins, referring to siblings Pauline, Harley, Albert, Erma, Willie and McKnight. "I'm 5-foot-8."

Attending Prosperity Baptist Church as a youngster, he was baptized at the age of 6 or 7 in the clear waters of Smith Fork Creek.

One of his earliest memories is going to Alexandria for the DeKalb County Fair, a momentous event because his father gave each of his children 50 cents to spend on rides and food. But such excursions and extravagance were rare.

"The only time we had when we were not expected to work was Saturday afternoons and Sunday," said Fite, who remembers such bygone chores as wheat threshing.

"With the exception of some level land where we grew wheat and hay and tobacco, the rest of our farm was hill land too steep for tractors so it was cultivated by mule-drawn equipment," he recalled.

"From about age 6 to 9 or 10, we were too small to plow so we paddled corn and thinned the corn, and we also fed the livestock and milked cows," he said of the boys' chores. "We did most all types of farming and grew most all we ate. We raised hogs, cattle and sheep, sold milk from our dairy, used most of our own wheat and corn flour or cornmeal. We sold tobacco and peaches from our orchards and wool from the sheep. The girls helped Mom with housework and taking care of the garden. We were all busy working when not in school."

Fite also remembers one afternoon when dark storm clouds prompted his teacher at Prosperity Elementary School to dismiss students half an hour early so they could get home before the rains fell.

"A tornado came through and blew down the schoolhouse. Thank goodness the teacher let us go home early, otherwise all of us would have been killed. The tornado also blew down the church."

Fite is sort of proud of the fact that he attended three different high schools in three counties.

"Auburntown did not have an accredited high school, so I went my first (freshman) year to Liberty (DeKalb County), then Watertown (Wilson County) the next two years, and I graduated my senior year at Auburntown (Cannon County)."

Getting a good education was important to the Fite family. Each of Dewey's siblings attended college for at least two years, and his elder brother Harley, who lived to 102, served as president of Carson-Newman College for 20 years. Dewey graduated from Cumberland University in 1940 with a degree in chemistry and biology.

"When I entered Cumberland University they gave me an aptitude test, and I scored real high so I planned on going to medical school, but after college I was tired of being broke so I decided to work a year then to go medical school," said Fite.

"My first job after college was at the Woolen Mills as a napping machine operator. I made $15 a week. Then England and France got involved in the war (World War II), and DuPont started a plant in Millington (Tennessee) making smokeless powder and TNT. When DuPont called me to work, I was paid $65 a week. Boy, I thought I was making big money," he smiled.

During his stint in West Tennessee, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Afterward he attempted to get into medical school, but, he said, "They were full and wouldn't take me so I stayed on with DuPont."

It was in a Millington drugstore, a popular local hangout, where he was introduced to three sisters. Of the trio Miriam caught his eye and captured his heart. The college graduate began dating the 16-year-old lass, and on June 12, 1942, they couple married. Miriam then finished high school.

DuPont soon transferred the couple to Philadelphia. Due to a housing shortage, the company put the pair in the Ben Franklin Hotel and gave them an eating allowance based on the price of meals at the hotel.

"We could eat at other places a lot cheaper, and so I saved the extra money which allowed me to buy her a fur coat," recalled Dewey. "We call it the coat that DuPont bought."

In 1946 Fite returned to Lebanon to join his brother Albert in operating a restaurant in the old West Side Hotel on Main Street.

"I didn't know anything about running a restaurant, but I took over and ran the West Side Coffee Shop. After I sold out my interest there, I opened up Dewey's Restaurant and Steakhouse.

I sold that one out and opened Dewey's Restaurant and Cafeteria at where Buckeye Drugs is now. I was known for my country ham. I bought 'em from local farmers who cured the old-fashioned way. I stayed in the restaurant business for 20 years," he said.

In the meantime, his brother Albert had gone from restaurants to real estate. Dewey followed in his tracks. In 1966 he became a licensed Realtor and opened Fite Realty. He has since sold hundreds of homes and other properties across the county.

In 1983, he sold his firm to Coldwell Banker, continuing as principal broker. Coldwell Banker eventually merged into Cumberland Real Estate, where Dewey remained a broker until 2011 when Midgett & Fite began offering brokerage services. Earlier this year he sold his part to his son-in-law Dan Midgett.Along the way he served as president of the Realtor's Association in 1970 and became a Lifetime Member of the $1,000,000 Sales Club. In 1995, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Board of Realtors.

Lebanon real estate investor Greg Dugdale of Greg Dugdale Properties has worked beside Fite for 25 years.

"He was my first real estate broker. I started in the business with Mr. Fite," said Dugdale. "The first real estate I ever bought was from Mr. Fite, and I still own it.

"Mr. Fite is a local real estate legend who has a lot of virtues. One of the most amazing things about him, he did not start into the real estate business until he was 50 years old. I'm proud to call him a friend and business associate."

Married for 73 years, Miriam and Dewey Fite have three children: Austin, a physician, lives in Los Angeles; Libby, a retired educator, resides in Memphis; and Neva, lives in Lebanon where she and her husband have homeschooled eight children. Miriam and Dewey had a second son, Dan, who died in 2012. The couple also has 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Fite reminisces of his home stomping grounds as he retrieves one more bit of family history from his memory bank.

"One of my brothers for a period of time operated a general merchandise store in Liberty with his partner whose name was Crook. Their store was named Fite & Crook (fightin' crook)," he grins with the wide smile that seems to be ever-present on his face.

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

© 2015 The Wilson Post

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