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Orleans loses a dynamo with death of John Sawyer

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 October 2013 at 12:00 am

John Sawyer died on Sunday after battling leukemia. He was 72.

MEDINA – John Sawyer pulled it off, orchestrating the largest capitol investment in Orleans County – ever.

In 2006, construction started on a $90 million ethanol plant in a former cabbage field at the corner of Bates Road and Route 31A. The facility opened in late 2007.

Many of these ethanol plants in the Midwest are owned by agricultural conglomerates. Sawyer reached out to a network of friends and farmers in raising the needed money to build the plant, which turns 20 million bushels of corn annually into about 55 million gallons of ethanol.

The plant also captures carbon dioxide and sells that to food companies. Distiller’s grains, another byproduct, is used to fatten up cattle. The ethanol plant has about 50 direct employees but has positively impacted the paychecks for hundreds of people.

The ethanol plant arrived at a time when corn prices took off. Not only did farmers have a customer with an insatiable appetite, but the grain growers were able to get top dollar for their crop. The ethanol plant has led to significant capitol upgrades locally as farmers expanded their grain storage operations.

The project brought Sawyer back to his roots in Orleans County. He had been living in Livingston County, where he farmed 1,500 acres and ran a cold storage business.

The project in Medina was close to his home, and it had rail access as well as close proximity to corn growers, the dairy market and ethanol customers in New York.

Sawyer was born at the former Arnold Gregory Hospital in Albion and grew up in Kuckville. When Sawyer and Western New York Energy committed to Medina, Sawyer built a house in Waterport along Lake Ontario. He looked for ways to give back to community, and donated $100,000 to the new Hoag Library.

“This is a community project and it can serve a lot of people,” he told me in 2012, back when I was working at The Daily News in Batavia.

Sawyer hoped the new library would also trigger other improvements in Albion, especially along Main Street.

He donated to the new residence at Hospice of Orleans, the Orleans County YMCA and was leading the effort to establish a local history museum at the former Swan Library.

Sawyer died on Sunday at age 72. He has been a transformative force around here the past seven years, exuding optimism and faith in the local folks.

He dared the community to dream big, showed us it takes hard work and some friends to make it happen, and then you don’t forget where you came from by giving generously to worthy causes.