Kevin Wray's not sure how old his roofing company is.
"I'm going to have to tell you by generation, said the president of Wray Roofing in North Newton. "My sons are the sixth generation. That much we know. The rest, we're looking for dates, but I've got to think that we're at least 140 or 150 years old."
Wray Roofing is one of two major Kansas commercial roofing companies — competitors — birthed by the state's first family of asphalt. The other is Wray and Sons Roofing in Hutchinson.
Today, the North Newton company has 148 employees roofing out of offices in Salina, McPherson and Wichita.
Both companies are built from the family roofing philosophy.
"From the start, our whole family philosophy has been 'Let someone else make the mistake,' " Wray said. "There are hundreds of new products out there, but do what you know and do it right."
And be thorough: No roof goes down without Kevin's first-hand approval.
"My salesmen, and for that matter myself, are required to be on the roofs we're doing for 25 percent of the project," Wray said. "That's why I have so many salesmen — eight."
Wray expects the same out of the sixth generation of family roofers, his sons Andy and Jake.
"They've got to be on those roofs for 10 years and they have to earn the respect of our roofers before they can even think about moving into our office," Wray said.
"If they don't, no one will listen to them because it's essential they understand everything about roofs."
Wray bought the business in 1978 from his late father, Gary, a taskmaster who would never call a finished roof perfect.
"My dad would always find something," Wray said.
"We wanted that perfect roof so bad. But Dad would look at it and say, 'Nah, that drain's not tight enough.' That man could make you feel huge, and that man could put you right down here."
The Wray roofing tradition almost ended in the early 1950s, when a fire destroyed the home of Bernie Wray, Kevin's grandfather.
Instead, the fire forged a good bit of the company's values.
"My grandfather had seven kids at the time and their house burned down, took absolutely everything they had," he said. "No insurance, forced them to start over and live in a boxcar."
Bolstered by his community, Bernie Wray kept roofing — and never again let anyone pick up the tab for a meal.
"My grandfather was the true warrior who kept this business going," Kevin Wray said. "I think he just insisted on buying the lunches to give something back because he'd lost everything, his brother to polio, his house, almost his business."
It's Wray's dogged attention to detail that draws business, said two of the company's longtime customers.
"One of the big reasons that Wray does a good job is that Kevin's so hands-on with the company," said Dave Lewis, regional manager for Weigand-Omega Management, a regional property management company based in Wichita.
"He's a very customer-oriented individual who really believes in taking care of the customer, and that pays dividends in the quality of their work."
Ty Issa, owner of Larkspur Restaurant & Grill in Old Town, agreed.
"A few years ago we got a call from our next-door neighbor, WDM Architects," he said.
"They'd seen that probably because of the heat and cold, our roof had caved a little bit from the edge of the wall. So I called Wray and asked them if they'd come out and fix it when they had time.
"I didn't see them, so the next day I called and they'd already been out here and done it. I had no clue, because anymore, one call doesn't get a response from most companies."
If Kevin Wray has his way, there will be seventh, eighth and ninth generations in Wray Roofing.
"It's addictive," he said. "The finished product, knowing you've done it well, it's addictive."