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Leaving After 32 Years, But With Us Forever

 
Ronnie in the shop today.

 

Looking back at 1986, it was a year filled with notable events including the return of Halley’s Comet on its second 20th-century tour through the solar system, the national debut of the Oprah Winfrey Show, and the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger just 73 seconds after liftoff. On a much more local level, an employee came to the Mast Store whose work can be seen in EVERY store today and whose influence will be around for a long time to come. Years of sanding, staining, designing, and building are drawing to a close for Ronnie with retirement on the horizon, but as we look around, we’ll see him every day!

Originally hired to work in pricing, Ronnie stood shoulder to shoulder with Faye Cooper, the co-owner of the Mast Store, handwriting pricing tickets. “I only worked in pricing for a year,” said Ronnie. He worked in what is now the worldwide headquarters of the Mast Store. It’s located in the next holler over from the Original Store and Annex in Valle Crucis. “This building has changed a lot,” he said. “There were five or more greenhouses on the property when the Coopers first bought it. When we’d take deliveries the UPS truck would back up on ramps to nearly where our timeclock is today.” (That’s well inside the building.)

Ronnie remembers the many changes that took place in the Home Office. “The area that’s now where the Accounting offices are used to be sloped and was where trucks would back in. The wood to build the floors was timbered from the property and sawmilled at the neighbor’s right next door. That was back in 1991 or 1992.”

In 1987, around a year after he was hired, Ronnie went to work in the Maintenance Department, and that’s where he hit his stride. “I’ve seen it all. In the early days, we’d straighten nails to use them again. We reused everything we could because the store didn’t have money to spare,” Ronnie shared. “John and Faye were paying for lots of things out of pocket, and really put everything they had into the store – money, time, hard work.”

Ronnie told a story about the early times, and it was later corroborated by Terry. John Cooper was trying to get a handle on how all employees were spending their time on a daily basis, so he asked everyone to write down everything they did on an hourly basis. Ronnie did as he was asked and recorded such tasks as repaired a rocker, sanded shelving, etc. One of the last items he recorded one day was “bull floats.” There it was on the list. So, John called him in for a little talk after reviewing his list because he thought Ronnie was showing a little bit of an attitude. As it turns out, a bull float is a tool that is used to smooth out large areas of concrete. These tools would be important in a few days because they were pouring a large concrete slab. “John was a little embarrassed,” said Ronnie, “he told me ‘I should have known that.’ All was forgiven.”

"I’ve worked with Ronnie longer than I’ve been married and have spent more than half my life with him."- Terry

Terry, who is the Maintenance supervisor said, “I’ve worked with Ronnie longer than I’ve been married and have spent more than half my life with him. When he started here, he might have just barely had two nickels to rub together, but he’s worked hard, helped organize and put together a great shop area, and has raised his family, including two daughters (one who now works at the store in the Pricing Department) and now gets to dote on his six grandchildren.”

You cannot find a more unassuming fellow than Ronnie. With his signature cap on his head, he’s not one to seek the spotlight, BUT he has been known to pull a prank or two. Terry, who’s now the supervisor of the Maintenance Department shared, “When we walk into the Quonset (where the Maintenance Department calls home) and don’t see Ronnie for more than three seconds, we automatically freeze.” Evidently, this behavior has been conditioned over years of Ronnie hiding and jumping out of corners, from behind doors, and maybe even out from under workbenches to scare the “bejesus” out of them.

Ronnie at the Table SawSpeaking of scary, Ronnie said that he’d had two experiences at the Mast Store that were pretty darned frightening. The first happened when Hurricane Hugo blew through North and South Carolina on September 22, 1989. Winds were so strong when the storm arrived in the High Country that they blew the tin off the roof off the middle section of the Original Store. In the continuing heavy rain and wind, Ronnie climbed up on the building and pulled what tin was left back over the top and tacked it down. Then, to cover the holes, he started tacking a large tarp to the roof. A corner that was secured at the bottom blew loose and he was holding on for dear life. “I thought I was going to blow away. The tarp had me cocooned inside and the end was flapping and pulling on me. I didn’t know how much longer I would be on the roof.” Finally, another store employee saw what was happening and helped hold the corner of the tarp to secure it more tightly.

The second scary experience is a little more lighthearted. Ronnie and Scotty, a co-worker, were coming back from Boone in the company Caravan. When they arrived at the home office, it was raining so hard that they couldn’t get out of the vehicle. So, to pass the time, they started looking at all of the gadgets and buttons in the van. It was relatively new at that time, and there were a lot of buttons. Scotty said, “I was pushing all kinds of buttons, then I went to reach for the one that was on the overhead console near the front windshield. I remember clear as day saying ‘I wonder what that one does.’ Around about that time a lightning bolt struck the ground not too far from the van, and Ronnie shouted, ‘Don’t ever touch that button again!’” Everybody in the group laughed – again – at that one.

Any time you walk into a store, you see some of Ronnie’s work. It might be the repair on an antique wrap stand or the fine detailing on a new wall unit. “He’s helped design, build, stain, and maintain our fixtures,” said Terry. “That includes the five or six prototypes that were built and tested before they are rolled out for testing in a store before going to the whole company.” When Terry says testing, he means they are picked up as far as you can hold them off the floor and dropped. If they break, it’s back to the drawing board. “Between Ronnie and Jeff (the Mast Store’s store designer – we call him the “store whisperer”), they help us uphold our branding when it comes to the look and feel of the sales floor,” continued Terry.

One of the most recognized elements of Mast Store’s fixturing are the barrels draped with red-and-white-checked oilcloth. They didn’t come from the manufacturer that way; they had to be built. “All of us down here in Maintenance have been practically drunk on the job before,” shared Ronnie with a laugh. The whiskey barrels have to be prepped for display before heading off to the stores. “Some of the barrels are still pressurized when we get them. We have to drill a hole in the end to release the pressure, and sometimes you get a little blowback of whatever was in them before. Then we have to bust out the rest of the end before letting them dry out while constructing the false bottoms. When we are working on them, it smells like a distillery down here.” 

Anniversary Dinner - Ronnie's 30th Year

When asked about his longevity at the Mast Store, Ronnie responded with this observation. “It’s the people I work with here that have made all the difference in the world. Don’t get me wrong, the benefits have been great, too, but the people are my favorite thing. I remember the first anniversary dinner I went to. There were only three or four of us, outside of John and Faye. Now, you practically have to rent ASU (Appalachian State University) to have a place to fit all of us into.” Anniversary dinners are held annually recognizing employees for all aspects of the company that are celebrating milestone years of service – five years, 10 years, 15 years, etc.

Ronnie, thank you for your service. We’ll miss you, but we’ll see you every day. Now, who will take up the mantle of putting soap on doorknobs, jumping out of dark corners to scare some unsuspecting fellow employee, or spinning fantastical, yet somehow, believable stories about how you got so many strikes while bowling? Well, that remains to be seen. Now, don’t be a stranger!