Arturo López recalls the day and time he started working for Stiles Roofing Inc., Lebanon, Mo.: Nov. 25, 1994, at 7:30 a.m.
“I went to Stiles Roofing, knocked on the door and asked if they were hiring,” says López, who at the time could speak little English. “Stevan Pitt, co-owner of the company, said it could be too dangerous for me because I could not speak the language. He said: ‘I’ll call you if I need you.’ I thought he meant I should call him.”
López called Pitt the next day at 6:30 a.m. and asked whether the company had any work. Once again, Pitt said there was not any work and he would call López if he needed him.
“And again, I misunderstood, so the next morning, I called him again,” López says. “I did that for a week, and finally, he said: ‘Yes, come in.’ And that’s how I started working for Stiles Roofing.”
López’s persistence paid off. He has been at Stiles Roofing for more than 26 years and now is a foreman.
“Professionally, he has gained a great deal of knowledge and kept up with all the changes he’s seen,” says Paul Barber, president of Stiles Roofing. “Personally, he’s worked hard to improve his leadership skills away from work—with family, church, community involvement—and he’s brought that back with him. I’ve seen him become a leader at work because of what he does away from work.”
López recently won the Best of the Best Award, which recognizes extraordinary contributions to the roofing industry and community.
The Roofing Alliance’s MVP Task Force presented López with the award, which is an extension of the Roofing Alliance’s Most Valuable Player Awards. OMG® Roofing Products Inc., Agawam, Mass., and Professional Roofing co-sponsor the honor.
“As a 26-year employee at Stiles Roofing and one of the first to become an NRCA ProCertified® Roofing Foreman, it is clear Arturo is invaluable to his company,” says Reed Gooding, president of GSM Roofing, Ephrata, Pa., and MVP Task Force chairman. “But his commitment to others and 20 years of volunteerism and ministry exemplify how important he is to his community, as well. Arturo is living the American Dream, and we’re thankful he is in the roofing industry and excited to present him with the Best of the Best Award.”
Growing up fast
López grew up in central Mexico; he was born in Veracruz, and his family of 10 moved to San Luis Potosí when he was about 3 years old. He recalls he had his first pair of shoes when he was 8 years old and his first toothbrush when he was 7 years old—but the family did not have toothpaste, so they used baking soda.
“Mexico doesn’t have a middle class—it’s rich and poor, and I was one of the poor people,” López says. “But I think it was a blessing because I know how to work and survive.”
When López was 6 years old, he went to first grade and got kicked out of school for the year because he says he was “a demon.”
“I fought a lot with other kids,” he says. “It was savage. There were little bitty kids, 6 years old, bringing knives to school and stabbing other kids. That kind of lifestyle seems like a movie, but it’s real. Parents need to work because they’re poor, so they don’t have time for the kids. The kids are raising themselves.”
López started a full-time job working in the fields on a farm before and after school when he was 9 years old.
“I was doing the same work as an adult but getting paid half the wages because I was a kid,” he says.
López says drugs and alcohol were readily available to anyone, regardless of age.
“In Mexico, there is no minimum age requirement to buy alcohol, so my older cousins thought it was cute to send me drunk to school when I was 9 years old,” he says. “I grew up around people who were taking the law into their own hands. I’ve seen too many people get killed.”
López dreamed of moving to the U.S., where life seemed too good to be true.
“We didn’t have meat to eat, so I always heard in America you can eat meat,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it. People said you can have a whole chicken leg in one meal, and I thought that couldn’t be real. Someone said in one day’s work, you can eat and buy yourself a pair of shoes, and I was thinking: That has got to be heaven.”
When he was 18 years old, López emigrated to the U.S., hoping his dreams could become a reality.
Chasing a dream
López made it to Georgia in 1991 and lived on pecans for a month.
“I did not know the language, did not know anybody and did not have a place to stay or work,” he says. “Someone was kind enough to give my companions and me a bag of chips to share each day. At nighttime, we got together with some other guys that had an old car, and nine of us slept in the car for a month in January 1991.”
López’s father taught him to work and not be lazy, so López looked for a job.“My first job was pruning peach trees, and I made $90 my first day,” he says. “In Mexico, I was making $2 a day for a full 10-hour day. So when I got my first $90, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.”
While living near Atlanta from 1991 to 1994, López also worked at a Chinese restaurant and a chicken factory. López says he began to spend time with the wrong people and party all the time. After López had a drinking binge that lasted several days, a friend who noticed how bad López’s alcohol habit had become said he was moving to Missouri and persuaded López to join him.
“On Sept. 19, 1994, I found myself in Missouri,” López says. “All I knew about Missouri was the St. Louis Cardinals and that the Gateway Arch was near Busch Stadium.”
They eventually arrived at a small bungalow in a field in Grovespring, Mo. López would stay in the house’s laundry area for the next several months.
“I didn’t know anyone, and there were no Hispanic people or Mexicans around,” López says. “I couldn’t communicate but needed a job.”
López did not want to return to his life in Georgia, and on one snowy day—he had never seen snow in his life—his car was stuck, and a neighbor picked him up.
“His name was Dean Moore, and he was going to church in Lebanon, so I decided to go to church,” he says. “I went to church in Mexico a couple of times when I was 7 and got kicked out because I didn’t have the proper clothes. They called me a heathen, and I never went back.
“My first impression at the church in Lebanon was the people were crazy,” he continues. “They weren’t drunk; they weren’t messed up; but they were so happy. The only other place in my life I’d seen people acting happy was at the bars.”
But something about the experience touched López.
“In my heart, I was feeling something good in that place even though I didn’t understand anything,” he says. “I liked the music, and I liked what I was feeling.”
The pastor of the church discovered López was looking for a job and hired him for a month to clean up after a construction crew. Moore was a propane delivery man who delivered to Stiles Roofing and encouraged López to apply at the company.
A willing student
Barber said when he first met López, he was willing to work but seemed as though he had many obstacles to overcome.
“I was probably somewhat pessimistic about him overcoming everything in his path,” Barber says. “The language barrier at the time was significant, and we didn’t have as many resources available to help non-English-speaking employees. He was in a new culture and community, and he was extremely young.”
When López started working at Stiles Roofing, he could not communicate and would try to do what the other workers were doing.
“The people at Stiles Roofing are kind,” he says. “They believe in people and want to give people chances, so I think they saw my work ethic. I don’t know what they saw in me, but they kept me around.”
Rusty Guinn, who at the time was a roof mechanic at the company, was volunteering with the Laclede Literacy Council and asked López whether he wanted to learn English. After meeting for coffee to discuss it, Guinn said he would teach López for free, and they agreed to meet two or three times per week at 6 a.m. for an hour before the workday started.
“For almost three years, Rusty would travel the 20 miles to work an hour early so he could help me learn English,” López says. “He told me he was going to teach me so I could get my U.S. citizenship. I said that sounds like going to the moon on a bicycle—I could never do that—but Rusty believed I could do it.”
In a written testimonial, Guinn says López was always respectful and motivated.
“[He was] never late for class, and he always had his homework completed,” Guinn says. “I was involved with the Laclede Literacy Council for 10 years, and Arturo was the best and most driven student I had.”
In 2007 when López passed the test and became a U.S. citizen, Guinn was the first person López called.
“I said: ‘Hey, you’ve done it, Rusty!’” López says. “I’m so proud to be in this country. It almost makes me mad when people who are born here take it for granted. Maybe they don’t know how hard it is in other places. I’m so blessed to be here.”
Setting an example
López does not take his opportunities for granted, and his hard work at Stiles Roofing is not unnoticed.
“Foremost, he sets a good example,” Barber says. “He wants to show those he leads he would never ask anyone to do something he would not do himself. He is patient, doesn’t overreact and is proactive—not reactive—in his approach to solving problems.”
That attitude is key when handling his crew.
“You don’t ever see him get upset openly with his men,” says Scott Pitt, vice president of Stiles Roofing. “If he reprimands someone, he takes them aside at a convenient time when there is no one else around and will explain what is expected. He is straightforward and lets them know if that’s not what they want to produce here, maybe they need to look elsewhere. Otherwise, let’s get on the same page and move in the same direction.”
López takes the time to find the right fit for his crew members.
“Everyone has different strengths,” he says. “I want everyone to learn everything on the roof, and when I find a crew member shines in a certain area, that is satisfying. I have learned a good leader leads people but also produces more leaders; I’m trying to produce more leaders.”
Pitt says López also truly cares about his crew members, and they realize that. “He takes interest in all his personnel—what is going on in their lives, how someone is doing if they are ill or injured,” Pitt says. “He is focused on his crew and has a handle on what is happening with them. He is a good person, takes his leadership role as a foreman to the next level and has a crew that would follow him anywhere.”
López says he looks to God to help guide him.
“Every day in the morning, I read scripture and ask God for guidance to help me do my job,” he says. “I ask him to help me treat my crew as I would like to be treated, to respect them. I ask the Lord for the knowledge and wisdom to help me watch out for these people and for the company.”
In addition to López’s attention to his crew, Nick Staats, director of sales and project management at Stiles Roofing, admires López’s dedication to quality.
“He’s put under a lot of time crunches and deals with a large group of people and the elements,” Staats says. “He has an ability to every single day stay focused and knows no matter what he has to do, he’ll make sure the customer will end up with a quality product.”
Barber says López’s relationship with customers is exceptional.
“There is no one I would trust more to be in front of and deal with the customer daily,” he says.
Staats agrees, saying he fully trusts López.
“Especially for the foreman position, you can’t put everybody in front of the customer and know they will represent your company well,” Staats says. “Knowing his personality, humbleness and religious attributes, I know I can trust him to walk in to talk to a customer I have been dealing with—I don’t need to worry.”
López says he tries to surpass expectations when helping a customer.
“When I go to meet with a customer, I am Stiles Roofing talking to that person—I am not a roofing worker,” López says. “I try to frame it like I am wearing Stiles Roofing’s shoes and all my focus is on that customer. I give them my cell phone number for when they have questions, make sure there is not too much noise—I let them know we are there to help them, not bother them.”
Brett Thompson, a Stiles Roofing customer who has worked with López for about nine years, always has been a satisfied customer.
“A good leader should possess the leadership not only to lead from the front but also to lead from behind,” Thompson says. “If Arturo needs to get in there and work, he’s not going to stand back and point fingers. He was always early, always prepared, had all the guys on the job and knew what each one needed to do.”
Going the extra mile
López continues to exceed expectations outside of work. He spends much of his time with his family and serving Harvest Tabernacle—the church he attended when he first came to Lebanon.
López married his wife, Charity, in 1995, and they have three children—Victoria (23), Cedryk (17) and Denverr (16). They often accompany López when he helps people in the community, which is something his church involvement has instilled in him.
“I was almost 24 the first time I read the Bible, and it was so amazing and intriguing,” he says. “I wanted to learn more and share what I had found with my people. I got baptized and gave my life to God.”
López began to look for more Latinos so he could tell them there is a better life and a better way.
“On Feb. 8, 1998, we began to have Spanish services at our church and still do,” he says. “I have lost count of the number of people we have baptized who have come to our Spanish services. And when they go back home, they begin to share with their parents and loved ones. The Lord has been so good to me; he has blessed me, and I volunteer because the Lord has saved me, and I want to share what he has done for me.”
For several years, López preached the 10 a.m. Spanish service at Harvest Tabernacle and then traveled to Camdenton, Mo., to pick up people in a van and take them to a Spanish service he held at a storefront church. He then took everyone home, cleaned up the church building and returned to Lebanon to translate the 6:30 p.m. service. López currently only preaches Sunday mornings, in part because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Otherwise, López spends much of his time outside of work helping people in need.
“When I get home, I check my messages from people at church who need help,” he says. “They may need to wire money back to their country or need prayers because someone is sick. A lot of people can’t speak English and need assistance taking care of everyday legal things. I want to help and try to catch up on that during the week.”
López then may spend his Saturday checking on people, fixing pipes, going to a hospital to interpret or helping someone toward citizenship.
“My wife and kids are patient with me,” he says. “I have a good family. They go with me everywhere I go.”
López says he used to love taking his children to meet prison inmates.
“My kids could bless the inmates by talking to them, and the inmates could talk to my kids, show them the real world has consequences and make them understand they never want to be in jail,” he says. “For me, it was a win-win.”
On the MVP Awards nomination form, Stiles Roofing Administrator Kim Gardner recalls countless other times López has helped people: performing emergency roof repairs for elderly couples after work; racing to the hospital in the middle of the night to help translate for a young couple whose baby stopped breathing; driving 40 miles to take medicine to someone who was sick; spending hours on the phone with lawyers trying to help immigrants get their residency; and cooking and taking food to people. When a pastor friend was dying of cancer, López drove 110 miles each way every week for several months to fill in for the pastor at church.
“He has an unwavering commitment to helping others,” Gardner wrote. “His free time is filled with teaching, preaching and service projects. He volunteers and donates hours translating locally, at church and for government agencies. Arturo is well-respected and appreciated by all who know him.”
López says he prefers helping to hobbies.
“People ask me why I don’t have a sport or why I don’t fish, and I say I don’t have time,” he says. “I choose to help people instead of going fishing. I feel like I’m wasting time when there is a lot of need.”
López says his car used to break down often, and people did not want to help him, so he made a commitment to himself.
“I told myself if my car gets better, every time I see someone whose car breaks down, I will step in to help,” he says. “So now it’s what I do. I keep my eyes open for people in need as I have been blessed.”
An admirable spirit
López is a blessing to the people who know him.
“His smile, his attitude, the vibe you get from Arturo without him even saying anything—he’s always happy and ready to go to work,” Thompson says. “You get a good feeling whenever you’re around him. He’s one of those guys you want to be friends with.”
López reveals his secret to keeping a positive attitude. “One of the bosses once came to me and said: ‘Why don't you stress? You’re always smiling and positive.’ I told him I give all my cares to the Lord and ask him to help me,” López says. “The Bible says if someone makes you walk one mile, go two. I always try to go the extra mile so I can sleep at night.”
Barber says López is the same person at work as he is outside of work.“He’s one of those individuals who in five minutes of conversation with him, you know he’s as interested in what is good for you as what is good for him,” Barber says. “And from that, you would know he’s not selfish in his interactions and motivations. If you run into him away from work, he’d be the same individual you see at work. That stands out to me.”
Pitt says López’s growth as a leader is commendable. “He’s never been one to sit back, even in the beginning,” Pitt says. “He was always confident he could do it, and now he has the experience and confidence to be a leader. He always is approachable about any situation. He came here as a young man with no experience and now is looked to for his leadership at Stiles Roofing.”
Staats says López’s reason for being the Best of the Best correlates directly with the Stiles Roofing motto.
“Quality and integrity—those are two things he does not steer from,” Staats says. “He’s a great fit for the company because he truly believes in and is a true example of our company motto and what it stands for.”