Wineka column: Ray and Velma Bost always proved tough as nails

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 16, 2014

MILLBRIDGE — In his family’s eyes, Ray Bost comes close to being a superhero.
He’s the guy who has built five different houses for him and his wife, Velma. He used to dangle in the sky and guide church steeples into place. With a powerful arm, he could drive nails into wood with one blow.
He hung 1,000 doors in Salisbury’s first housing project.
Professional scouts once begged Bost to sign a baseball contract. For seven years, he drove long-distance trucks up and down the East Coast. For nine years, he ran a successful cabinet shop.
Ray also volunteered his spare time and built wooden toys for needy kids, installed the first lights and constructed the concession stand for China Grove’s Little League, remodeled the grandstand at China Grove Middle School and built dressing room stalls at South Rowan High’s fieldhouse.
He and Velma have been married 64 years, and they’ve operated with a simple philosophy.
“If you manage the money, I’ll make it,” Ray told her long ago, “and we’ve made a pretty good team.”
Velma served as bookkeeper for the cabinet shop, designer/architect for their various homes, and while Ray did things such as mow the Little League baseball field, she sold hot dogs and drinks from the back of a pickup.
It’s hard to believe that mixed in with all of his hard work, Ray has defeated cancer, although doctors told him it was terminal. He came back from a terrible truck accident, when he thought he would never walk again.
As a young carpenter, Bost lost part of his left index finger in a sawing accident. He worked the next day.
In 1972 at the age of 40, Ray lost his left eye because of the cancer, and he has had limited vision in his right eye after going through cataract surgery that same year. All these decades since, Velma says, her husband essentially has lived with about 5 to 10 percent of his vision.
Mix in three different surgeries on his back and neck and a stroke in 1983 that forced him to give up the cabinet business, and you realize Bost packed quite a bit into life with Velma and their children, Patsy “Pat” White and Johnny Bost.
Today, Ray and Velma live off N.C. 150 in a house he and Johnny framed out in seven days. They developed eight residential lots in all and named the cul-de-sac serving the properties as “Round Tuit Lane.”
That’s what Ray has always told Velma.
If he can’t do it now, he promises, “I’ll get round tuit.”
Because he’s familiar with the lay of the land and the rooms of the house, 82-year-old Ray still keeps busy with mowing, tending the flower beds, weeding the vegetable garden and doing inside chores such as washing the dishes.
Put him in unfamiliar territory, he acknowledges, and he doesn’t do as well.
“I have adjusted,” Ray says, “but I have disasters.”
Ray Bost was the 10th of 12 children, learning farming from his mother and construction from his brothers and father.
He displayed considerable talents on the baseball diamond as a catcher, but Ray’s mother would not allow him to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates after the scouts acknowledged he would become the team’s property and could be sold to other franchises later.
“That was a no-no,” Ray says.
He and Velma both quit school early and married when they were 17.
“We raised each other,” Ray says.
The Bosts first lived in a tiny apartment near the prison camp with no running water. Already a grade-A carpenter, Ray was building them a house at Bostian Crossroads when their little girl, Patsy, was stricken with polio.
The virus weakened the muscles in Patsy’s right foot and stomach. After 10 days in a Cabarrus hospital, she came home and continued hot bath treatments. Velma brought in the water from a neighbor’s house, heated it on the stove and gave Patsy baths in a laundry tub.
As the months passed, Patsy had difficulty walking — her foot would buckle. Velma eventually had a nervous breakdown, and Ray required surgery from a work-related injury that kept him in the hospital two weeks.
Their medical expenses mounted, and Ray kept on working. The March of Dimes bought Patsy a brace, but she shed the contraption in 1955 after the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis paid for a successful foot operation at Mercy Hospital in Charlotte.
Most people today know Pat from her decades as a beautician in China Grove.
Through the years, Ray worked for various outfits, including C.M. Guest & Sons, Sharpe and Strange Construction and a couple of stints with Wagoner Construction.
He left his mark on projects such as construction of the Swink Plant for Cannon Mills, First Presbyterian Church (where he positioned the steeple), the old Rowan County Courthouse, the Downtowner Hotel in Charlotte, a library at Livingstone College and expansion projects at Rowan Mills and N.C. Finishing Co.
“There are lots and lots of things I’ve done around Salisbury that I’m proud of,” Ray says.
During one job, without Ray’s knowledge, Bob Strange bet the head man at Proctor Chemical that Bost could go through a 100-pound cask of nails in a day’s time.
Strange won the bet.
“He could set a nail then drive it in with one lick,” Pat White says.
Bost sandwiched his career in construction around a seven-year stint of driving for Akers Motor Lines. His driving experience ended with an accident on U.S. 130 in Princeton, N.J., when he was seriously injured jackknifing his tractor-trailer to avoid a school bus.
Bost spent three months in a Charlotte hospital tied to sandbags as his doctor tried to avoid surgery, which eventually was done anyway. Bost said he literally improved step by step until he could go back to construction work.
His eye cancer, a melanoma, hit him in October 1972. Bost was driving home from a construction job in Charlotte when it seemed to him as though it were “snowing black.” He had to pull alongside the road until it disappeared, but an examination by Dr. John Crawford in Salisbury soon led him to examinations by several more doctors in Durham.
They all recommended that his left eye be removed as soon as possible. He returned to Salisbury, and by 7 a.m. the next day had the operation.
Three days later came the operation for a cataract in his right eye.
During all of this, a doctor told Bost he probably would not live longer than five more years. Ray made sure his family was not told.
“I lived with knowing it,” he says, “and they lived without knowing it.”
But the cancer did not return.
Meanwhile, Ray received help from the N.C. Commission for the Blind in retraining him to use him hands with limited vision. Bost realized he had enough tunnel-vision sight to set up a cabinet shop. He converted a small service station and landed projects such as making park benches and garbage can containers for the city of Winston-Salem.
He also began specializing in custom-made kitchen and bathroom cabinets, plus pieces of living room furniture.
Velma kept the books and answered the telephone. At its busiest, the shop employed five, with Butch Pinion as Ray’s right-hand man.
There was a time in the mid to late ’60s, when Johnny was playing baseball, that Ray and Velma worked with Everette Wagoner in making significant improvements to the Little League program and facilities in China Grove.
Ray says he is still amazed at all of the cooperation and generosity he witnessed from companies such as Taylor Clay, Piedmont Block Co., Wagoner Construction, Grove Supply, Pike Electric, Carter Electric, Teeter Plumbing, Coca-Cola Bottling, Southern Railway, Dale’s Sporting Goods and others.
“For some reason, everything worked,” Bost says.
Ray became the driving force in constructing the building that held the concession stand, two bathrooms and an equipment room; bringing in tons of dirt to fix a drainage problem; putting up the first light standards; mowing the field; and building a new outfield fence and affixing all the advertising signs.
The program grew and integrated during those years from three to eight teams.
Johnny Bost and Pat White never get over how much their parents have done together.
“A majority of what he accomplished was in a 40-year period,” Johnny says of his father.
The way his father dealt with his scare with cancer also taught Johnny something.
“When you give up, there’s no future,” he says.
Pat says both of her parents instilled in her a work ethic. To her father especially, vacation, recreation and fun were all spelled the same — “w-o-r-k,” Pat says.
And something she learned from Ray’s days as a carpenter seems to translate to the bond her parents still have today.
“When he puts a joint together,” Pat says, “it will not have a gap in it.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or