Dearmon honored with Order of the Long Leaf Pine award
By Josh Bergeron
KANNAPOLIS — If you’re looking for a primer on the city’s history, there are a couple of options, says Ed Robinette.
“You can go dig through our library and our files and go online to find information, which is the hard way to do it,” said Robinette, a member of the Kannapolis History Associates. “Or, you can pick up the phone and call Norris Dearmon. Every time I’m around him I learn something new.”
Dearmon, a 94-year-old history whiz and community figure, has a lengthy resumé of involvement in civic organizations, church groups and community groups. He served in the military during World War II and worked for years in Cannon Mills. Last week, Dearmon added another important item to his impressive life history — the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award.
The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award is presented to people who have demonstrated exemplary service to the state or their communities. It’s the most prestigious award that can be presented by the governor.
The Kannapolis City Council on Nov. 14 presented Dearmon with the award. The city council organized for a number of local veterans to attend the event and be honored on Veterans Day, but there was a second reason, too. The group also attended the city council meeting to honor a friend. The veterans saluted Dearmon after councilmen Ryan Dayvault and Doug Wilson presented Dearmon with the award.
“You’ve left me without words,” Dearmon said after accepting the award. “I hardly know what to say.”
In a city that’s seen a remarkable transformation since its mill days, Dearmon is one of the few who can recall Kannapolis’ past with impeccable detail, said local residents who spoke to the Salisbury Post. Dayvault refers to Dearmon as the city’s informal historian.
Once the most important part of Kannapolis, the mass of buildings once composing Cannon Mills and, later, Pillowtex are gone. They’ve been replaced by the NC Research Campus. The Kannapolis City Council hopes to further transform the city by revitalizing the downtown area adjacent to the campus.
“The new Kannapolis that’s coming is just going to to be so different from the town that we had before,” Robinette said. “It’s going to be a completely different place to visit.”
When Dearmon first moved to Kannapolis, the city looked remarkably different than it does in 2016. Dearmon said he and his family moved to Kannapolis months after his birth in 1922. He lived in Concord, Albemarle, Statesville and Troutman during his life. During the Great Recession, Dearmon recalls his family raising its own chickens on a family farm.
He graduated from J.W. Cannon High School in 1941. He worked at Cannon Mills for 43 years and served in the military for three and a half years.
While in the military, he worked as a dental technician and performed a variety of procedures — from basic treatments to surgeries. Dearmon said he was deployed to Iceland in 1943. At Cannon Mills, Dearmon said he mostly worked on the plant’s computers.
His knowledge of Cannon Mills includes interesting and important details. For example, Dearmon says Cannon Mills continued to produce its products during the Great Recession to ensure employees could “put food on the table.” During the recession, products from Cannon Mills were stored in huge warehouses and later sold when the market improved, Dearmon said.
“I’m not sure if anybody else will ever have the in-depth knowledge in terms of being that one-stop shop for Kannapolis history,” Dayvault said.
Dearmon retired from Cannon Mills in 1985 — the same year Dayvault was born. Since then, he helped establish Kannapolis History Associates — a historical depository for all things Kannapolis. As Kannapolis slowly changes, the organization will be important in preserving the city that existed before, said Dearmon’s son Eric.
“None of the history would have been preserved without the history associates,” Eric Dearmon said. “They’ve done an incredible job and, humbly speaking, my dad has been a piece of that puzzle.”
Norris Dearmon has faced a few health setbacks as he’s grown older, but Robinette said Dearmon is always quick to get back in action, doing research about Kannapolis history or talking to others about the city’s past.
“When they came up with the phrase ‘you can’t keep a good man down,’ they must have been talking about Norris,” Robinette said.
Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.