We all can recall one or two people in our lives that touched us in some way. To me these are the true heroes in life. No they didn’t save a child from a burning building or rescue their buddies while under fire. These people are the unassuming heroes of our daily lives. Heroes that in some small way changed us for the better.
I knew of Valmer Bays long before I met him. Some of my buddies that I met while living in Columbia, Mo back in the early 70’s had worked for Valmer in Kansas City on a framing crew building houses. They would talk about Valmer during breaks. He was the Paul Bunyan of construction. To hear them talk he could build a house with one hand while fighting off a wild cat with the other. As a young guy just starting out in the trades I would take this all in and hope for the day that I could meet him.
I got that chance in 1970. Work in Columbia had slowed way down and it had been a skimpy winter for me. My buddy Gary had just gotten married and moved to K.C. I had heard he was working for Valmer so I gave him a call. Within minutes I was talking to the man himself. He told me to show up Monday morning and he’d put me to work.
What a weekend that was. Not only did I have a new job I was moving to a new city. I couldn’t wait. Monday morning couldn’t come quick enough for me. I was going to work for the famous Valmer Bays.
I pulled up on the job site and asked for Valmer. Tom, Valmer’s brother-in-law, pointed at a rather large fellow over by the house that was under construction. When I say large I mean it. He was well over six foot and well muscled. I’d say he was in his late 30’s to early 40’s. It was late winter so he was dressed in heavy work clothes and rubber boots due to the mud. He had a stocking cap on that attempted to cover a huge mass of curly brown hair. He gave me a big smile and welcomed me.
I was to get to know him over the next couple of months. Not on a personal level so much as on a mentor level. Valmer was from Oklahoma and would talk at break time about his life there. He had a sparse education but was one of the smartest men I knew. He was very likeable and friendly with an Okie warmth about him. You just couldn’t help wanting to work hard for him.
I remember in particular how he would motivate us. He would challenge us to nail driving contests. Part of the crew would compete with the other part in wall building. It was friendly competition that helped us all be more productive. One day I was doing the laborers job, as he hadn’t shown up. I was carrying 12 foot long 2” x 6’s”. Valmer came over. You see I was carrying only two at a time. I was making a lot of trips back and forth and that was slowing me down. So he picked up three and walked over and leaned them against the house. Not to be out done I picked up four and did the same. Valmer then picked up five, and I then picked up six. Once we did that a couple of times he quietly walked off. He didn’t yell or cuss at me he just showed me the way.
Over the years that I was in construction I had the opportunity to put Valmer to work. I had become a foreman over a large restaurant being built in Kansas City in the early 80’s. It was all timber construction and jobs were scarce as the time. I called Valmer and offered him a job. Not thinking of himself, Valmer asked if I needed more guys and I said sure. So through Valmer I was able to man my crew. Valmer was a wiz at figuring out how to put the complicated timber structure together. Later, as a superintendent for a homebuilder, I again hired Valmer and his crew to build houses for me.
Some time after that I called him up to see if he was available for a job I was running. He told me that he was now disabled with some sort of heart problem and was retired. He still had that smile in his voice, that easy Okie way, and the warmth of a good friend. He was and still is a hero to me. He taught me how to expect and get the best out of myself.
Yesterday I Googled Valmer. According to what I found out, Valmer was still around in 2007. He would be in his late 70’s by now. I hope he’s doing well.