Joplin builder Gary Rose sits on the HBA Board of Directors. Gary is pretty sure he saw the tornado’s birth, in the sky over his house on the Kansas side of the state line. He and his wife were sitting on the front porch. His son and daughter-in-law and granddaughter were fishing in the pond. "The sun was shining, and then a storm came in and the wind started picking up and it started getting a little nasty-looking. Then all of a sudden there were two clouds right over our head, and I could tell that something was up. I just looked at Kathy, and we jumped in the truck and went about a half mile down the road to her mom and dad’s house, because they had a tornado shelter. And when I was pulling out of my driveway, there was a storm chaser right there in front of my house. And he slammed it in reverse and went back to the intersection and headed east, following it. And I know that that is where it started."
Before the tornado hit, Gary Rose was doing all right. He had four custom home contracts lined up, going into spring. I asked him how many houses he had built since last May, and he had to scratch his head. "Fifteen? No. Eighteen."
On a Thursday afternoon, I sat at a meeting room table with Crystal Harrington and the Joplin HBA Board of Directors. As we talked, I told them, "To me, this town seems very unusual. I haven’t seen a spirit like this anywhere in my life."
Crystal asked me, "Will you write that, Ted? Will you put that in your article?"
I said, "Yes I will, Crystal, but it will sound better than that. I am a professional."
Builder Gary Rose said, "Are you going to make us sound like professionals?"
I said to him, "Well, I have to tell you that I am devoted to the truth and I’m not allowed to lie. You are going to sound like what you are. If you’re afraid of that, you should have never let me in here."
Gary knew I was kidding him. But he also understood what I meant, and later on, riding around in his truck, he told me his frank views about the successes and failures that came with the boom and bust economy.
"Some of the people who went out of business probably should have gone out of business," said Gary. "We had people with good full-time jobs deciding to become builders on the weekend. We had real estate agents deciding they were going to be builders now. And they thought they were going to get rich. Well, I have been in this business for 30 years, and I haven’t gotten rich yet. If I do everything right, it just about pays the bills. Some of these people might have thought they were getting rich, but I figure, it’s because they weren’t paying the bills. They were robbing Peter to pay Paul. Well, come a day, you can’t rob Peter no more, cause Peter hasn’t got any money left. So then Paul, well, Paul sucks hind tit. You know what I mean?"
I don’t know if I can make Gary Rose "sound like a professional," whatever that means. But here’s my truth: he is a professional — one of Joplin’s serious, seasoned builders with rock-solid reputations, built on decades of delivering on their promises. When the dust settles and the easy opportunities have disappeared and the people in search of a quick buck are gone, the hard core of Joplin’s builders, the Gary Roses and the Tom Mayberrys and the Tom Garrisons and the Charlie Kuehns, will still be in town, running the job: banging nails and standing walls and putting roofs over people’s heads.
"For the last ten months, it has been absolutely full bore, I mean, just go, go, go, go, go," Gary told me. "And I don’t like the rollercoaster effect. I like just a nice, steady incline, where everybody’s busy and everybody’s making money. But this going ninety miles an hour just kinda gets old after a while. Some of these people from out of town, they may be in a hurry. But I’m in no hurry. I’m in here for the long haul."
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Joplin, MO.