A Rome man became a millionaire with his Amway business, and with advice about how others could also make big bucks.
Dexter R. Yager was born Dec. 6, 1939, in Fulton. Later, his family moved to Rome, and lived at 130 Riverview Parkway North. He attended Fort Stanwix Elementary, then Laurel Street School -- now Strough Middle School -- and graduated from Rome Free Academy in 1957. He married Birdie Narehood that same year, at the age of 17, and the couple moved into an apartment on River Street. Yager never went to college. He worked as a salesman for Sears, for the former Maxwell Ford and then for Utica Club beer. When he worked for the Ford dealership, the couple lived in a room above the used car lot office across from where he worked, according to his son Doyle. His wife worked at the former Griffiss Air Force Base, doing data entry.
The couple later lived in a trailer on Lee Center Road, his son said, until they moved to 316 Cortland Ave. -- near the intersection of North Madison and West Embargo streets.
In 1965, Yager began working part-time selling products for Amway -- a Michigan-based multi-level marketing company, founded in 1959, which sells health, beauty and home care products. The company has its distributors recruit friends and relatives into their network of salespeople. Yager excelled at it, and before long, he was doing so well that his Amway job became full time. According to a 1995 story in the Charlotte, NC, Observer newspaper, Yager said Amway became his top priority at that point. “I ate, slept and breathed the business seven days a week,” he told the paper.
Yager and his wife had seven children. They moved their family in 1969 from Rome to Charlotte, N.C., where his number of distributors was growing. The four oldest children had attended Jay Street School -- now an apartment building. Six of the seven children, like Yager, never went to college.
By age 30, he was already a millionaire, according to the newspaper. His wealth grew by more millions after he started writing and selling motivational books and audiotapes. Eventually, Yager was put in charge of about half of Amway’s global sales network of 2 million people, stretching from Britain to Brazil. According to Google, Yager made an estimated $12-14 million in 2010-2011.
Yager also invested in real estate in North Carolina, becoming one of the largest property owners in the area. He and his partners reportedly owned $45 million worth of real estate.
He told one interviewer, “‘I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and the one reason a lot of people get rich is they’ve been poor enough to hate it.”
He wore a diamond-studded Rolex, and acquired a fleet of 50 cars, along with an airplane, four boats, an RV, and homes in both North Carolina and Florida. The North Carolina home was described as a $1.6 million log showcase, with 15,000 square feet.
Yager wanted his distributors to follow his lead, saying, “We’ve got to keep them looking at houses, boats, planes, cars, vans, coaches -- expanding and stimulating and fertilizing that powerful brain that God gave every one of them, until they believe they deserve more, and they will go after it and they will get it.”
At Amway meetings, he would take the stage to the beat of music like the theme from “Rocky.”And his middle-aged workers would jump to their feet and respond like Yager was a rock star.
Despite his wealth and the demands of his businesses, Yager often made the time to return to his RFA reunions, and to enjoy the companionship of his family and other friends.
Yager authored or co-authored a dozen motivational books, with titles like “Millionaire Mentality,” and “Don’t Let Anybody Steal Your Dream.”
But not everything was shiny and profitable in Yager’s life. He was sued by one person who said Yager forced his Amway distributors to buy his motivational books, which Yager denied. And in a 1985 book titled “Amway: The Cult of Free Enterprise,” he was accused of profiting twice from his distributors, with the sales of both Amway products, and of his books and tapes. A spokesman for a national Christian counter-cult ministry compared Yager and Amway to a cult, citing their emotional, high-energy meetings.
Amway has fought off both private and government critics of its sales practices. Although some Amway sales people make good money, the average income is only $65 per month. The Federal Trade Commission investigated whether Amway operated as an illegal pyramid scheme, but decided it did not. However, it ordered the company to pay a $100,000 penalty for misleading recruits. In 1989, Amway paid $48 million to settle similar complaints in Canada.
Both Yager and Amway were major contributors to the Republican Party and campaigns.
Yager died Jan. 6 of this year, at the age of 79. Survivors included his wife of 61 years, Birdie, and their seven children, 27 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren, his brother Richard and sister Lillian.
This column was written for the Rome Historical Society by Chip Twellman Haley, retired Daily Sentinel news editor. Comments, old photos, suggestions for future columns or guest columns may be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Copies of the book “Rome Through Our History,” a collection of some of Haley’s columns, may be purchased at the Rome Historical Society.
The Rome Historical Society, 200 Church St., is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Go online at www.romehistoricalsociety.org, visit their Facebook page, or call 336-5870 for more information.