CARTHAGE, Mo. — Michele Sexton made a promise to herself hours earlier to keep the tears at bay, and for the most part she was able to do that Thursday afternoon.

It was only later, after an outdoor ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of D&D Sexton Inc., did the company’s CEO find a quiet moment to reflect, wiping away a few tears.

“He was so fond of his company, and he loved it when his employees had successes,” she said of her husband, David Dean Sexton, who died March 10 at age 65. “It makes me so sad that he’s not here today to see this. He would be so proud.”

On a nearby table inside a tent, dozens of D&D employees, drivers and guests leafed through pages of a history book that Michele Sexton had spent months piecing together.

“I took everything he had (in a scrapbook), dismantled everything, made spreadsheets … and started putting together the book,” she said. “Dean and I have been together since 1989. I was always a part of the company … but until I had everything out in front of me, I really didn’t realize the scope of it all. I remember him saying, “Not too bad from a kid off the street of Carthage.’ It was just all so impressive.”

Dean Sexton’s name was mentioned multiple times throughout the ceremony. The company, headquartered in northern Carthage, was established in November 1981. Before that, Dean Sexton had served as a company driver for nearby Schreiber Foods for three years. When the latter discontinued its trucking operations, he borrowed $5,000 from his grandparents and purchased a single truck. He taught his younger brother, Danny Sexton, how to drive before they hit the road together as a trucking team.

“I remember that (moment) vividly,” Danny Sexton said during the anniversary event. He now serves as the company’s vice president. “Dean and I worked together for seven or eight months — one truck, one trailer, me and him, with the truck beating us to death on all those roads. We dreamed big about how we could grow (the company) … but we never dreamed it would be as big as it is today.”

From that beginning of one truck, one trailer, two brothers, D&D Sexton is today one of the top refrigerated carriers operating in the Midwest, with 130 tractors, 300 refrigerated trailers and 190 full-time employees.

During Thursday’s ceremony, state Sen. Bill White presented Danny Sexton with a plaque of recognition from Missouri legislators. Over the years, the company has received a number of awards, covering safety, top driving and maintenance.

“It’s apparent this company knows how to do trucking right,” White said. D&D Sexton “is a success story, folks.”

Ronda Freeland, D&D’s president, praised the company’s drivers, adding that they rack up between 12 million and 13 million over-the-road miles each year.

“You’ve heard the saying, ‘If you’ve bought it, a truck brought it’ — Dean was wise enough years ago to realize that food transportation was one of the most critical needs of the country and would always be,” she said, adding that truckers came back into the nation’s collective thinking the past 22 months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The one thing that Dean always understood, and we all understand, is how important driver retention is,” Danny Sexton said. “You’ve got to keep your drivers happy, and we do a very good job with that.”

Among D&D’s drivers, 40 men and women have between seven to 15 years of service, and several more have eclipsed the 20-year mark. That includes Remy Braun, recipient of the 2019 American Trucking Association Driver of the Year award.

“It’s a good place,” Braun said of D&D Sexton. “They take care of me here; they’re like family. You’ve got to love (driving). You have to have passion for it. I drive trucks because I love it. This isn’t a job. This is my life.”

The reason why more D&D drivers didn’t attend Thursday’s ceremony, despite this being driver’s appreciation week nationwide, is because they were away doing their jobs, Michele Sexton said.

“They’re out there making noise on the road,” she said, gesturing toward North Garrison Avenue, “making sure there’s food” on people’s dinner tables.

Dean Sexton “stepped out on faith 40 years ago and tackled (the trucking industry) head on, and we went from very little to where we are today,” Freeland said. “We’re very (thankful) of his accomplishments.”

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