Show off your holiday lights and you could win an iPad! Enter your photo by December 13. Winner will be selected by popular vote.
When Mary Wray was a girl, she was keen to escape her poor life in Texas. Now she is preparing to open her fourth business in Franklin County.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Entrepreneur Mary Wray is creating the Wisteria Ridge Event and Conference Center on 28 acres of land in Callaway. Wray bought the property in June with her husband, Jim. The couple has started three businesses in downtown Rocky Mount.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
James Wray trims grass and weeds at the future Wisteria Ridge Event and Conference Center in Callaway on Friday. The Center will host weddings, family reunions and the like once it opens sometime in the spring of 2014, and the Wrays say four weddings are already lined up for next year.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
A gaggle of geese waddles up a driveway on the property that will be the Wisteria Ridge event center in Callaway. The site is about 25 miles from downtown Roanoke and 16 from Rocky Mount.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Construction is under way on Wisteria Ridge, the event center being created by Mary and Jim Wray in Callaway. It will offer a 4,000-square-foot tent with a dance floor and other amenities.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Mary Guerra grew up poor in the dusty, relentless heat of South Texas.
Like many Hispanic teens around Kingsville she worked summers as a ranch hand at the legendary King Ranch. On horseback, toting a fuel tank, she rode the ranch’s hundreds of thousands of acres burning spines off prickly pear cacti, an intervention that allowed their consumption by cattle.
Once in a while a diamondback rattlesnake spooked her horse. The animal occasionally reared if she rode too close to the cactus.
As a child walking to school she watched the rich kids’ parents pull up in fancy cars to drop them off. She told herself, “Someday, I’m going to have a car like that,”
Today, Mary, 53, drives a BMW SUV and her weekend car is a sleek BMW Z4 convertible.
On Oct. 27, 1981, Mary married Jim Wray, a Franklin County native she met at a Naval air station on the outskirts of Kingsville. They returned to Franklin County about 15 years ago after his retirement from the U.S. Navy.
She and Jim, also 53, have started three businesses in downtown Rocky Mount and they are working to launch a fourth in the county. The Wisteria Ridge Event and Conference Center near Callaway will host weddings, family reunions and the like once it opens sometime in the spring of 2014.
Mary traces her entrepreneurial drive to her childhood in hot and dusty Kingsville.
“Sometimes all I could think about was getting out of there,” she said.
When Mary was about 18 months old and the 11th child born to her biological mother and father in Alice, Texas, her parents arranged for her to be adopted by Emeterio and Paula Guerra, a childless couple who lived in Kingsville, about a 25-minute drive from Alice.
Mary said her biological mother was overwhelmed trying to raise 11 children. And she said her biological father “wasn’t exactly what you’d call father-of-the-year material.”
The Guerras encouraged Mary to stay in touch with her siblings, including a 12th child born about seven years after Mary.
“So, it was like I had two different families but I just had a different last name than my brothers and sisters,” she recalled.
When she was 15 years old, Mary married for the first time. She had a daughter, Teresa, when she was 17 years old, and a son, Noe, when she was 19. Mary and her first husband divorced in 1980. Teresa is now 36 years old and lives in California. Noe, 33, resides in Rocky Mount and works for Yokohama Tire in Salem.
Mary said her adoptive mother wanted her to be a teacher. But when Mary enrolled at Texas College of Arts and Industries, now Texas A&M-Kingsville, she gravitated toward business classes.
“I thought, ‘If I become a teacher I’m never going to get out of here,’ ” she recalled.
She believed business classes offered more opportunity to move beyond a childhood spent in poverty.
“You have to decide, either it’s going to make you or it’s going to break you. And I decided it wasn’t going to break me,” Mary said.
She was 20 years old and working as an X-ray technician when she met Jim. One of Mary’s co-workers at the hospital insisted that she accompany her to a club on the Naval base.
“Right from the get go Jim said he was from Franklin County and that someday he was going to go back,” Mary said.
She told Jim she had two children and that any dates they had would have to include them.
“He was good with that and that is one of the reasons I married him,” Mary said.
Jim and Mary had two children together — James “Jamie” Wray, now 30, and John Wray, 24.
In 1998, Jim retired from the Navy as a chief petty officer after 20 years service and the couple moved to Franklin County. He took over Wray Trucking from his father, James Wray Sr. Mary landed a job with NewBold Corp. in Rocky Mount.
In 2003, Mary left NewBold and started Basket Creations & More in the building in downtown Rocky Mount that is being renovated to be a performance center. She and Jim purchased other buildings on Franklin Street downtown and Mary added Antiques & Collectibles of the Crooked Road and, in 2010, The Artisan Center Along the Crooked Road.
Matt Hankins is Rocky Mount’s assistant town manager and community development director. He said the Wrays have made significant investments in the town.
“They believe in the future of the community and have certainly been innovators in terms of what they have brought to Rocky Mount,” Hankins said. “They’re not afraid to try new things.”
Jim said he and Mary first discussed the idea of owning and running an event center during his retirement party at a similar facility in California. He described his wife as the business visionary and himself as the person who tries to help realize her dreams.
In April, Mary learned that one of the artists represented at The Artisan Center was trying to sell her 4,000-square-foot log home, a barn and other outbuildings and the surrounding 28 acres off Algoma Road near Callaway. She visited the property, loved what she saw and persuaded Jim to have a look.
“The first thing he said when he saw it was, ‘This sure is going to be a lot of work,’” Mary said, smiling.
She and Jim bought the property in June for $375,000 and began work to make the event center a reality.
Mary said Wisteria Ridge will feature a 4,000-square-foot tent with a dance floor, an arbor next to the property’s pond, the rustic barn and other amenities. The log house will not be part of the event center.
The site is about 16 miles from downtown Rocky Mount and about 25 miles from downtown Roanoke, she said.
The couple has already booked four weddings for 2014, she said.
Mary said she and Jim feel proud about the businesses they have started but emphasized that any accomplishments and material rewards rank behind the wealth associated with having four children, six grandchildren and one great-grandson.
“Having them makes me realize that my cup definitely runneth over,” she said.
And, Mary says, her occasionally hardscrabble childhood helped shape a rich life.
“Sometimes I look back and think, ‘Man, I wish I could forget that time.’ But then I realize that taking that long road is what brought me here. So, maybe the trip wasn’t so bad after all.”
For more information about the Wisteria Ridge Event and Conference Center contact Mary Wray at (540) 915-4139 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Wisteria Ridge also has a Facebook page.
Weather JournalComplexities of ice accretion