Family of former teacher reaches out after accident

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 4, 2018

SALISBURY — Gary Rivenbark has devoted his life to teaching students the art of shaping wood and building.

Now, he’s asking for help.

Rivenbark, who taught woodworking at Salisbury High School for several years, suffered a fall in mid-February that left him paralyzed from the waist down. It was a hard blow to him and his family.

“It’s been a life-changing event,” said Jane Rivenbark, his wife.

Gary retired in 2007. Jane said her husband enjoyed working with the kids and teaching them to work with their hands.

“He loved it,” she said.

Over the past decade, he has run into former students and always greeted them or gave them a hug.

Jane described her husband as someone who likes to laugh and always has a twinkle of mischief in his eye. He enjoys playing music and being outdoors with the wind in his hair atop a motorcycle or four-wheeler.

After retirement, Gary started working “on the side” with Piedmont Heating and Air. His Feb. 16 accident occurred when he fell from a rooftop while checking a unit.

Since then, times have been hard. His fall severed his spinal cord and fractured his neck. Gary spent five weeks at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and underwent emergency back surgery. He has been kept on a ventilator, and Jane said he developed a staph infection in his lungs as well as pneumonia.

Six weeks after his fall, Gary is being moved to an acute care facility, where he’ll be weaned off the ventilator and undergo physical therapy. Jane said she and Gary have been hanging on thanks to “family, faith and friends.”

Now, they’re reaching out. But it’s not medical bills the family needs help with, Jane said — it’s renovations.

Doctors say Gary will be wheelchair-bound, and Jane has started taking stock of what must be done to bring him home. Doors have to be widened, ramps installed, a wheelchair-friendly vehicle procured and a bedroom must be converted into a handicapped bathroom.

“It’s a tremendous expense at this point,” she said.

The family has started a GoFundMe page, hoping that family and friends will step in to help them cover renovation and medical costs. Jane expressed her thanks for any who would lend a helping hand to her family in the midst of their struggle, and she thanked the community for prayers and support.

“Every little bit helps,” she said.

To donate to the Rivenbarks, visit

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.