By Thomas Sellers Jr.
It has almost been 30 years since Leanna and Larry Dagen came back home to build their lives.
Since 1989, the couple has graduated three valedictorians from Millington Central High School, worn multiple hats in the community and opened up businesses in Bartlett and Millington.
Their extended résumés have them busy from participating in government to real estate. The best way to track down Leanna or Larry is at Dagen’s Living Water Christian Bookstore Jewelry, Trophies and Awards at 4952 Navy Road in Millington.
Before the bookstore opened and expanded in 2003, Larry and Leanna followed in the footsteps of her parents, Erich and Lois Bogensehneiner, by becoming business owners. The Dagens moved from Oklahoma back to Shelby County, embarking on a new life.
“We opened up a business in Millington in the new shopping center next to Walmart,” Leanna recalled. “We named it Casual Unlimited.”
Larry described that store as a place to find several needs for the home. Then the Dagens incorporated jewelry into Casual Unlimited. The takeoff of the jewelry aspect of the store led to the closing of Casual Unlimited around 1994, and Dagen’s Jewelry was born. From wholesale to fixing priceless pieces, Dagen’s Jewelry became a fixture in Millington, Ripley, Covington, Bartlett and other parts of west Tennessee.
“On Highway 51 it was known for engraving, and our actual biggest order during that time was the catalog for Ducks Unlimited,” Leanna said. “So we engraved and we started to figure out, ‘Oh we can do trophies.’ People started coming in asking about that.”
Larry’s hand-engraved work expanded to the trophy part of the family business. Meanwhile, their children – Ryan, Brett and Katelyn – were growing up as the Dagen name expanded across Shelby County. Dagen’s Jewelry opened in Bartlett by Cici’s Pizza.
“The Bartlett store was very busy,” Leanna reflected. “But our lives weren’t planted in Bartlett. We were in Millington.
“At that time our three kids were in school,” she continued. “We loved being able to be there for three kids in three different schools in Millington. We loved being able to drop whatever we were doing to be able to run up to the schools. That was one of the advantages of being self-employed. There were a lot of disadvantages as well.”
The work hours were long for Leanna and Larry. The couple even took on the challenge of running an AT&T cellphone location for a short while. Around that time, Larry stumbled upon the future home that would house all their interests.
“Larry had a wish moment back in 2003,” Leanna said. “He figured that the person who owned this building was going to be moving. So he bought it. It also evolved because it was a huge business when he bought it.”
Living Water Christian Bookstore would be the fertile ground for the jewelry, engraving, trophies and other business interests of the Dagens.
“We are networkers,” Larry said. “We have been blessed because first of all we think of others. We are servants. We like helping people. That’s how we have survived.”
Since being saved in 2000, Larry has used his businesses as a way to give back to his hometown. Larry graduated from Millington Central High School in 1976. That same year Leanna was graduating down the road at Raleigh-Egypt High School.
Their children all graduated from MCHS as No. 1 in their respective classes.
“We have been able to make it through with our kids,” Leanna said. “With three kids and Katelyn getting ready to go back to college, we’ve had 21 years of college. As parents, even if you’re not paying for them to go to dental school, you’re helping with their car, paying car insurance or whatever it is. We are very blessed.”
Larry said blessings come their way because they take advantage of God’s opportunities to give back through service. Larry is a member of the Millington Board of Alderman. He is known by several in the community as Coach Dagen, working with various Trojan Athletic programs from 1994 to 2017.
The son of Harumi and Jim Dagen said the philosophy he uses in life applies to the businesses.
“Your success isn’t measured by how much money you have in the bank,” Larry said. “It’s measured by the influence you’ve had on others in life. It’s about the dash and how you lived your life. We are just blessed. God has blessed us.”
Larry said he has been able to reach high achievements because Leanna has never left his side.
“It’s paramount in life when you look at our relationship – it’s consistent work,” he added. “Our relationship now is stronger than it’s ever been. The truth is having a strong relationship with your partner is probably the most important thing in the world. Husband and wife relationship. The No. 1 person on this Earth that is your counselor should be your spouse.”
The couple has leaned upon each other during tough times and hectic days. Leanna keeps busy as secretary of the Planning Commission and member of the Millington Education Foundation and Exchange Club. And she works with the Millington Municipal Schools Pre-K Advisory Board.
It seems the Dagens’ free time is spent working at the bookstore. With employees who have become family, Dagen’s is a place where the workers know the customers’ names.
On major holidays, they stop by to get the perfect gift, ranging from T-shirts to specially made plaques. Team awards and trophies are a common order at Dagen’s. And a few symbols of marriage have come from the jewelry section of Dagen’s.
Leanna and Larry are happy their store has been a place to share special moments and occasions for 15 years.
“Life is too short – we’ve got to make the very best of it,” Larry concluded. “God does this in your life; you see the transition as you get older. Our parents are passing away. We have to capture every moment and make it special.”