Ted Cushman: The Ten-Penny News

Joplin's Home Builders, Standing Tall

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I want to introduce you all to a couple of guys I know. I should say, a couple of guys who I am proud to know. It's Gary Rose and Tom Mayberry, two of the leading builders in the Home Builders Association out in Joplin, MIssouri, who I met when I traveled out there in April to report on Joplin's recovery from the 2011 tornado. My story is in this month's Builder. It's called, "We Are Joplin."

Joplin really impressed me. I was sitting around the table with the HBA leadership in April, and I told them that I had seen a spirit of community, a strength and a resilience, and just an engagement with life that was rare in my experience — and I've been to a lot of places in this country. Crystal Harrington, the executive director of the HBA, asked me, "Ted, will you write that in your story?" I told her, "Yes I will, and it will come out sounding better than that, because I am a professional."

Gary Rose asked me, "Are you going to make us sound like professionals?" I told him, "Well, Gary, I have to tell you that I'm devoted to the truth, and I am not allowed to lie. You're going to sound like what you are. If you're not comfortable with that, you should have never let me in here."

He knew I was messing with him. But he also knew that I meant what I said. And so I have to tell you — and I mean this too — Gary Rose looks and sounds like what he is: a professional, and a darn good one. Or maybe I should put it this way: in the real America, professional builders look like Gary Rose and Tom Mayberry, and Charlie Kuehn and the rest of the HBA builders. These are the guys who get it done.

Gary said to me: "As far as any tract home builders — I mean, you can look around: Tony, Jay, Tommy, me  — you know, you don't see us sitting here in suits and ties. I could sit here and name you maybe four or five builders in Joplin that actually don't get out there and get dirty. And that's how Joplin is."

Gary Rose

 Tom Mayberry

 Most of the HBA builders learned their trade before they learned their business — swinging a hammer. And it has helped to form the way they approach life. Later that week, I drove around the town with Tom Mayberry looking at some of the buildings he has built or repaired since the storm. I commented that his company seemed like a good place to work: the people were serious and they were working hard, but they were cheerful and relaxed. As I said to Tom, "You're high-performance, without being ultra high-pressure." Tom replied, "That's exactly what it is."

Tom started to talk about his business ethic. He said,"This is what I tell my guys. Our number one goal is to see to it that the job gets done and gets done right, and we've done a good job. That's absolutely number one. Number two, right close behind that, is we want to try to make money."

When the tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, it hit a town that was ready. Not ready to stop a tornado — the tornado ripped a big hole in their town. But they had what it takes to come back, and the reason is that people in this town have spent their whole lives trying to do the best job they can do, and to give everybody they deal with a fair shake. They've been practicing. And since that storm, they've been working non-stop to make things right. They've had a lot of help. But they have done a lot — a whole lot — on their own.

If that tornado had not hit that town, nobody would have ever paid much attention to Joplin, MIssouri. It's just another town in the American heartland, with nothing in particular to make it stand out from all the other towns out there. But when catastrophe came, and everybody looked at Joplin, people noticed the strength, the courage, the resilience, and the work ethic. It's called character. And it is nothing to take for granted. It's the kind of strength that is the reason the United States of America is not a country you want to fool with.

I don't know if Joplin's different from any other town in America, when you come right down to it. If you hit another small city with the same scale of disaster, you'd probably see a similar story. And I don't want to sugar coat this thing, either. Joplin has problems — serious problems. They're not saints. When the tornado hit, there were heroes who pitched in and saved lives, and there were people who looted. At the FEMA village outside of town, the police made four busts in the first couple of weeks because people were turning the kitchens in their trailers into meth labs. Police Chief Lane Roberts (another real professional, by the way) said, "These are people we already knew about. We were dealing with them long before the tornado came." Joplin has trouble, just like every other town.

But when people talk about the strength of the American heartland, they're not just making that stuff up. It's real. The people I met and talked to out in Joplin are the kind of people who make you proud to be an American.

Now, I'm a writer. And there are people who think a writer, a reporter, should be objective. And, you know, I have half an education as well as a few life experiences. I've studied a little journalism and a little philosophy, and I've thought seriously about the nature of truth. I gotta be honest with you: I don't believe there is such a thing as an objective report. Everybody has a point of view. You can call it a bias; that might be too strong a word, though, because people who are fair-minded and who try hard to avoid bias or prejudice, still have a point of view. You can't help it. Your point of view colors what you see and how you think. What you see depends on who you are. To really report honestly, you have to be aware of what your point of view is. To some extent, you have to embrace it. You have to be yourself — otherwise, you really have nothing to say.

Personally, I like people who look like what they are. It's the same in construction: I like materials that look like what they are. You want a brick house, use brick. Don't use plastic. You want to use plastic, well, fine, use plastic that looks like plastic. Nothing wrong with plastic. 

Same way with people. Do I look like a professional to you? Well, I am one. And I'm a good one. And my first goal, when I go out to cover a story, is to do the best job I can do of learning the truth, and communicating that truth as well as I know how to. My second goal — not too far behind the first one — is to try to make a little money. That's just how I roll. Now, you may not see what I see. But at least you know I'm going to call it like I see it.

My truth from Joplin is that this town is something special, and that their builders are the kind of people who make this country look good. I can't make them look like anything besides what they are, and I'm not trying to. But they're the salt of the earth. Don't believe me? Well, fine. Missouri is the Show Me State. Go see for yourself. I know I'm going back. It makes me feel good; and I still got a few things I can learn from that place.

You think I'm making it up? Hey. What do I look like to you?


Comments (2 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 10:05 PM Monday, March 31, 2014

    The whole process looks professional & dedicated. I think it is top on my list as worth reading article. http://www.humphreyhomes.com.au/

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: buck3647 | Time: 2:16 PM Tuesday, June 04, 2013

    Monolithic concrete structures are indestructible and the future of construction

    Report this as offensive

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About the Blogger

Ted Cushman

thumbnail image Ted Cushman attended Harvard College, served for four years as a U.S. Army paratrooper, and worked as a frame and finish carpenter for seven years before joining the staff of Hanley Wood's Journal of Light Construction (JLC), where he anchored the news desk for 4 years and edited feature articles. Ted now covers the home building industry as a freelance writer from his base in the hills of Western Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife, psychiatrist Cynthia Cushman and their three sons, Jack, Adrian, and Isaiah. In his 15-year career as a construction photo-journalist, Ted has earned a national reputation for insightful, accurate, and practical coverage of home building techniques, building science, and housing economics.