Relationships key to Beckwith's award, success
Ralph Beckwith is still a blue collar kind of guy after years in the lumber business.
Working as a coal miner on Sharp's Knob, he disagreed with a strike against the company, and he and his wife, Glenda, bought a farm and moved to Slaty Fork.
"I thought I'd always be a coal miner," Beckwith said.
But he went to work for Wallace Galford at his sawmill in Slaty Fork.ﾠ After a short time, Galford asked if he wanted to buy a mill.
On a handshake, Beckwith borrowed $1,000 from W. W. Harper and went into business for himself.
Now in his 50th year in business, the 77-year-old president of Beckwith Lumber Company, can be found at the mill and office from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Beckwith and his wife of 59 years have four children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and his pride is evident when he talks about them.
Three generations now work at the lumber company and other related family-owned businesses.
Beckwith is proud, as well, of receiving the 2011 West Virginia Outstanding Large Sawmill of the Year award and Area 3 Large Sawmill of the Year at the West Virginia Forestry Association's annual meeting at Canaan Valley.
Beckwith Lumber Company and Beckwith himself have been recognized more than once for commitment to the industry and as good stewards of the land.
The company received the 1995 Sawmill of the Year award, and was featured in an article in Southern Lumberman Magazine in 2002 titled, "Beckwith Lumber, Standout Steward."
Beckwith was selected as Who's Who for 2010 in Manufacturing, and an article printed in The State Journal at that time reported, "Family, church and work have been Ralph Beckwith's life."
That continues to be true today.
Hanging just inside the entrance to Beckwith Lumber Company's office in the former Slaty Fork Elementary School building is a plaque with the words of "Living Life," by Bonnie Mohn
The words, in part, are fairly biographical of the way Beckwith lives.
"Life is not a race - but indeed a journey.ﾠ Be honest.ﾠ Work hard. Be choosy. Say "thank you," I love you," and "great job" to someone each day.ﾠ Go to church, take time for prayer.ﾠ Let your handshake mean more than pen and paper... The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away."
Beckwith has suffered the ups and downs of the lumber market and has recovered from three devastating fires to saw another day.
"I try to forget the bad years and remember the good ones," Beckwith said. "But this down market has drug on much longer -lasted much longer- than any of the others."
Despite a down market, Beckwith continues to ship lumber to his loyal customers.
"Relationship has been the key to staying in business this long," Beckwith said. "If a company is buying a large number of loads, they will call and ask how many we want before they pass the orders to others."
One indicator of possible changes for the lumber industry came by way of a fax to Beckwith's office on Monday morning.ﾠ
An article in a High Point, North Carolina, newspaper reported that "one of the themes expected to emerge from the fall furniture market in High Point, can be summarized in three words, "Made in America."
Beckwith likes the sound of that.
But chasing sales is not Beckwith's only focus.
OSHA certificates in his mill office commend him forﾠ "voluntary and exemplary commitment to employee and workplace safety."
His stick-to-it-iveness has paid off and today Beckwith not only has the sawmill from whence comes his wholesale lumber business, but a dry kiln in Buchannan, High Point Hardwoods in North Carolina, and 65,000 acres of timber to support his habit.
When there is land to sell, his daughter-in-law, Tina, is the realtor.
"I have outgrown the competition," said Beckwith.ﾠ "I can take it from stump to export."
With nearly 130 employees, the mill cuts about 13 million board feet of lumber per year. That output ranks Beckwith's at number 23 nationwide in footage sawed by a mill.
"It will be less this year," said Beckwith. "Because of the market."
To ensure that he doesn't get bored, Beckwith is also a farmer, running several hundred head of cattle.
In addition, he is involved in his community and county.ﾠ A member of the Chamber of Commerce, he also served as president of the Pocahontas Development Authority for several years.
As an avid WVU sports fan, a game might be the only thing that can draw him away from work for a time.
It is quite fitting that Beckwith received a Diploma from the University of Hard Knocks, bestowed on him by Alderson Broaddus College.
In a county where it can be tough to make a living, Ralph Beckwith is tough enough to do it, and wise enough to do it well.