Building Back

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    Ted Cushman

    Tom Mayberry in his office on 32nd Street in Joplin.

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    Ted Cushman

    Tom Mayberry with his job scheduling board at his Joplin office. Before the tornado struck, Mayberry and his company team were already adept and scheduling and managing dozens of concurrent insurance repair jobs.

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    Ted Cushman

    Tom Mayberry’s job board. “We rebuilt hundreds of roofs after the storm,” says Mayberry.

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    Ted Cushman

    Tom Mayberry stands in front of a recently completed new home in a tornado-devastated section of the village of Duquesne, east of Joplin. Many local homeowners have chosen to wait for their turn to rebuild until a local builder has room on the schedule, rather than rush to rebuild using an out-of-town contractor.

Next door to Crystal Harrington's HBA office on 32nd Street is the office of Mayberry Construction. Tom Mayberry started the company with his late brother Mark 33 years ago, and his sons Jake and Jason grew up in the business (Jake currently holds a seat on the HBA Board of Directors).

From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, the company built six to ten custom homes a year in Joplin. But these days they specialize in insurance work — everyday fire and flood repair, roof blow-offs, that kind of thing. But Mayberry still builds an occasional custom house on the side. And during slow periods, he builds investment properties: duplex houses or four-plex townhomes that he manages as rentals.

From the beginning, the rentals were Mark and Tom's retirement plan. "Right now," Tom told me, "I personally own 60 or 70 duplex or four-plex apartments. When I give this up, that's what I'm going to do — just manage those."

The tornado took a few of them out.

The weekend of the tornado, Tom stayed at his newly-built getaway house on a lake in Garfield, Arkansas. Coming to work on Monday, he was not sure what he would find. Walking up to a set of three four-plex buildings on Wisconsin Street, right in the path of the storm, he was relieved to find the structures still standing. "But then I realized — I was thinking about buildings, but I had to think about lives. I didn't know if these buildings had even been checked for survivors. I went through the whole place looking under beds, in closets … but I found out, everybody who had sheltered there was safe." The buildings sustained a million dollars worth of damage, but today, they're back in service.

In the early days, Tom says, "It was like a nuclear bomb had dropped. Nobody had power, nobody had gas. You were in that survivor mode." Cell phone service was spotty. Cleanup was the first priority. But as soon as the city moratorium on building lifted, Tom's crews went to work putting all his own buildings back into service.

Besides those units, an employee's house was hit; Jake Mayberry's house was hit; and several of Jake's neighbors' homes were flattened. "So, immediately our job board was full to the point where we couldn't really take a bunch of extra work," said Tom. "And soon as the phones got turned back on, we got hundreds of calls. People wanted to get on our list. But I'm not going to put you on my list if I really can't get to you for three years down the road. We boarded a lot of houses up for people, and we did hundreds of roofs. But we told people right up front: 'We've already got everything we can do with all our guys for this first four-month to five-month series of jobs. When we get done with those, we'll go to our next bunch of jobs, and you're in the middle of them. It's going to be four or five months before we start.'"

"We're still finishing up some tornado jobs," Tom said. But a year after the tornado, he showed me his job board. It's back to the usual run of insurance work: Fires, floods, and blow-offs.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Joplin, MO.