Robert “Bob” Sain, 88, a retired Cleveland businessman and much-beloved civic leader who helped to charter Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland Inc. more than two decades ago, died Sunday.
Burial will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. in Sunset Memorial Gardens and will conclude with full military honors. A “Celebration of Life” service will be held later in the day at 2 p.m., in the sanctuary of Broad Street United Methodist Church with Revs. Randy Martin, Skip White and Charles Lipps officiating.
Visitation is set for Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Broad Street United Methodist Church. The family also will receive friends one hour prior to the “Celebration of Life” service Wednesday.
Those who knew Sain, and those who worked by his side in an array of civic endeavors, best remember the community servant for his role with the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. Sain worked with members of the Methodist Men of Broad Street United Methodist Church to charter the local group in 1990.
Until the nonprofit organization named its first full-time executive director — Matt Carlson — Sain helped to coordinate the Habitat affiliate’s work with other volunteers like the late Jim Tucker, as well as Elwood Sperry, Paul McCord, David Ketchersid and Murl Dirksen, among several others.
Carlson, who was hired by Sain to the Habitat leadership role in January 2002, said he learned from the best.
“Bob was one of those types of people who had a huge impact on community,” Carlson stated. “He was a founding father of Habitat for Humanity. His commitment and presence will be felt for years to come.”
Carlson called Sain “... a blessing to the people of this community and to Habitat for Humanity. We continue to feel the positive effects of his leadership and his positive commitment.”
Even until his death, Sain was still involved with Habitat.
“We just had a home dedication last Tuesday and Bob was there for it,” Carlson said. “Bob would have been 89 in December. He will be missed by everyone who crossed his path in life, and our Habitat for Humanity organization is better today for his leadership, past and present.”
One local government official, and a veteran Habitat for Humanity advocate, who remembers Sain for his dedication to Habitat is Dan Howell, executive assistant to Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis.
“I was fortunate to have served briefly on the Habitat for Humanity board with Bob,” Howell said. “He was an outstanding man of character, devotion and integrity.”
Howell pointed to Sain’s involvement with Habitat as being instrumental in its continuing growth.
“Habitat for Humanity would not have enjoyed the kind of success that it has today without Bob Sain,” Howell stressed. “Habitat for Humanity has become the kind of respected organization, and whose impact on this community has been so very tremendous, due in part to Bob’s involvement. Bob lived and breathed the mission of Habitat for Humanity, and he had such a love for this community.”
[Mayor] Davis said Sain’s love of the Cleveland and Bradley County community was unconditional.
“I first got acquainted with Bob when he was manager of JCPenney and later had the privilege of serving with him on the Bradley Memorial Hospital board of trustees,” Davis said. “Bob truly cared about this community and his passing is a great loss.”
In an obituary today by Companion Funeral & Cremation Service, published on Page 2, Sain is described as a “... well-known businessman, civic leader, and loving husband, father and grandfather.” A native of Mocksville, N.C., Sain was the son of the late Frank and Marie Corriher Sain. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Erroll Owen Sain, and a brother, George Sain.
Sain served in the U.S. Navy and was a World War II veteran. He served in the European Theater, Africa, Italy and France.
As a businessman, Sain managed JCPenney stores throughout the Southeast for 43 years. He came to Cleveland in 1968 to manage the local JCPenney operation.
Ken Webb, president and CEO of Cleveland Utilities, said he will always remember Sain “... as an absolute gentleman.”
“I first met Bob back in the ’70s and I’ve known him ever since,” Webb said. “We’ve lost a fine member of this community.”
Webb recalled an incident years ago when he had purchased a jacket from JCPenney for his father. Because it was the wrong color, he returned it but the store didn’t have another one of the same style in the right color. As store manager, Sain couldn’t find another one so Webb picked out a second style with a higher price tag.
“Bob found this one and he just gave it to me,” Webb offered with a smile. “I’ll never forget how accommodating he was.”
Webb said he will miss Sain’s camaraderie in the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club. The two always sat across from each other during the civic club’s Thursday morning breakfast meetings.
Another local leader who said he will miss Sain for his business savvy and his civic stewardship is Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland.
“Bob was just an outstanding businessman for many years when he managed JCPenney,” Rowland said. “That’s where I first met him. As instrumental as he was for the store’s success, as well as for many other civic endeavors, I think Bob will always be known best for his work with Habitat for Humanity. Bob was the face of Habitat. Any time there was a Habitat event, Bob was there.”
Rowland added, “Bob never really retired. He just kept working for the community. Sandra and I certainly send our deepest sympathy to the entire Sain family.”
Along with serving as a steadfast member of Broad Street United Methodist Church where he served on multiple committees over the years, Sain was also active with the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce as a member and past president; Cleveland Rotary Club, member and past president; Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, past president; Junior Achievement of the Ocoee Region, past president; and he was a longtime volunteer and supporter of United Way of Bradley County, a nonprofit for which he served many different leadership roles.
Sain received multiple civic awards, one of which was the Robert Varnell Jr. Leadership Award from the Chamber of Commerce. He was a member of the Tri-State Rose Society, and according to the Companion obituary, “... took great pleasure in sharing his beautiful roses with friends and shut-ins in Cleveland.” He was a longtime member of the Cleveland Country Club.
Through his years of volunteerism with Habitat for Humanity, Sain had a direct impact on the lives of more than 70 Cleveland families. Over the years, he worked with thousands of volunteers, most of them in the construction of Habitat houses. A nine-home subdivision, Sain Village, is named after him.
Sain is survived by his wife of 35 years, Jane Dyer Sullivan Sain; two daughters and sons-in-law, Lynn Marie and Larry Weathers of Cleveland, and SuEllen and Larry Noelck of Louisville, Ky.; and one son, Tom Sain and his wife, Deborah, of Omaha, Neb. Other survivors include siblings: Flora Tucker of Wilmington, N.C., and Mary Martin, Annie Shelton, Margaret Eudy and Earnest Sain, all of Walnut Cove, N.C.; and three grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and several nieces and nephews. Also surviving are three step-children: Emma Jane Haile, Martha Foster and Julian Sullivan.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, memorial donations be made in Sain’s memory to either Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland, Broad Street United Methodist Church or to the donor’s choice of charities.