In its 55 years in business, Dixie Roofing has made its mark, speckled across the landscape on homes and commercial buildings that make up communities across the state. Their legacy is subtle, merely a shelter from the storm, in the most literal way.
Locally, one can see Dixie Roofing’s contribution by simply driving through Winona – the roof and its copper cupula on the top of the Bank of Winona, Plaza Shopping Center, and Winona Christian School, to name just a few. Most recently, Dixie Roofing worked on the new Biewer Lumber development, currently under construction in Winona.
In Carrollton, it worked on re-roofing and the steeple at Carrollton Baptist Church, as well as re-roofed many of the historic homes in the town.
In Jackson, it roofed a significant number of buildings on the campus of Jackson State University, including the administration tower. It also re-roofed the Old Capitol Building, the Mississippi Department of Histories and Archives building, and the GV (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center, as well as repaired the dome on the new Capitol building.
In Oxford, Dixie Roofing worked on Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. In Grenada, it roofed the Modine plant – the size of close to a dozen football fields – as well as numerous commercial buildings and residences. In Greenwood, it re-roofed the Baldwin Piano factory, with its hundreds of skylights, and North Greenwood Baptist Church, just to name a few.
As one of the largest employers in Montgomery County and a reach statewide, it is hard to believe that in its humble beginnings, Dixie Roofing was just three brothers with a dream to make their own way in life.
Born and raised in Montgomery County, brothers Jerry and Bernard Blakely found themselves doing what they could to make ends meet back in the mid-1960s. Growing up, they helped their father, Fred Blakely, cut timber.
“Daddy was the hardest working man,” Jerry Blakely said. “Cutting timber was the prime way of making a living back then.”
The Blakelys believed in working hard, in whatever they did, and that work ethic was passed down to Jerry and his siblings.
“Everyone in my family would work hard,” he said. “But everywhere they worked, they were appreciated.”
One particularly harsh winter, Jerry and Bernard were cutting pulpwood, and Bernard proposed that the two open their own sheet metal company. At that time, Jerry was working in Louisville for the company constructing the Georgia Pacific plant, however, he wasn’t getting the hours he needed to make ends meet.
“Times were a little hard then,” Jerry recalled. “It was a bad winter. Bernard kept calling and calling, ‘We need to go into the sheet metal business, not roofing, sheet metal.’ Bernard was a promoter. I always said he should have been a preacher.”
Eventually Jerry gave in, and the two went into business.
“Finally, one day, there just wasn’t much around it,” Jerry said. “I wasn’t making nothing and couldn’t pay my bills, so we decided to give it a go. We didn’t make any money, but we stayed in business for two or three years, and then my brother, James Fred, came to help us.”
James Fred and Bernard Blakely were twins, and James Fred began helping his brothers on the weekends. Then eventually, he decided to join the venture.
“Of course, [James Fred] didn’t have nothing either, but we were glad he did it because it gave us someone else to work,” Jerry laughed.
Initially, the brothers focused sheet metal, mainly storefront steel, but they had the skillset to do much more. For Jerry, from a young age, he gained experience in roofing working for family and other companies, and Bernard and James Fred brought their own gifts to the table.
“We just happened to be gifted and could do just about anything,” Jerry said. “All of my family had good common sense.”
While none of them had any formal training or education in business, they made up for it in common sense and a lot of hustle.
“We didn’t make any money, but we stayed the course,” Jerry said. “We were the owners and employees. When we needed help, we would call some kinfolks and friends. When you are young, you don’t mind working. It was many years of barely making it.”
Eventually, the brothers expanded their services to include commercial roofing. It wasn’t long after that tragedy struck. In the fall of 1969, James Fred Blakely fell through the decking of a roof and later succumbed to his injuries.
Jerry and Bernard pressed on, but as the economy waned, the company took on debt, something Jerry was determined to dig himself out of. In 1972, Jerry bought out Bernard and became sole owner of Dixie Roofing. Eventually, Bernard relocated to Vicksburg and returned to the sheet metal business.
“I was not about to quit and walk off,” Jerry said. “I was determined to pay that debt. My word and reputation means the world to me.”
Throughout the 1970s, Jerry worked hard, and wife Shirley Blakely handled the administrative duties, mostly from her home office as she cared for the couple’s three children, Missy, Kris, and Spring. Younger brother, Harold Blakely, came on board at Dixie Roofing as well, working for many years until his death in 2011.
The Blakelys saw the economy ebb and flow, and sometimes, even though work was done, payment was never received. But they stayed the course.
Son Kris Blakely summed up his father’s business journey simply, “Having a dang good business mind and being scrappy helps.”
As the 1980s rolled around, Jerry said “things kind of turned” for Dixie Roofing. He had ventured into residential roofing, and that along with a steady commercial business, Dixie Roofing came into its own.
“Fred’s stores were probably my mainstay,” Jerry said.
He explained that Dixie Roofing constructed Fred’s Dollar Stores throughout Mississippi and even as far as Oklahoma.
When Kris came to work with his father fulltime 20 years ago, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone. Dixie Roofing started as a family business and would continue as one.
“I always knew I would go into it,” Kris said. “I studied drafting and engineering at Wood Junior, Holmes, and hinds. In high school, I trailed behind Ricky [Bingham] forever. We fixed leaks. It was fun as a kid because you got to climb up on roofs, which was fun.”
Kris now serves as president of Dixie Roofing and manages the day-to-day business. The company employs 42 fulltime employees from the local area – a far cry from just three some five decades earlier.
“Right now, we could use more people,” Kris said.
Some of those employees have been with Dixie Roofing for many years. Bingham is the longest serving employee.
“Ricky is a major asset to Dixie Roofing,” Jerry said. “He is irreplaceable. He is one of the most valuable people at that place.”
The Blakelys added that longtime administrative manager, Connie Johnson, is another they can’t imagine doing without.
While the roofing business has changed over the years, Dixie Roofing evolved with it.
“Most of the [commercial] roofing today is a membrane roof,” Kris said. “Everything is green. We love the new green energy. Most everyone wants that spec.”
And while, the company slowly ventured into residential roofing, it now makes up about 50 percent of its daily operations. Legendary actor Morgan Freeman of Mississippi is one of the company’s residential customers, Kris said.
Licensed and bonded in Mississippi and Louisiana, Dixie Roofing continues to make its mark 55 years later, but memories of those humble beginnings remain vivid in the minds of the Blakely family. It is also what drives a continued commitment to philanthropy in the community that has given them so much.
The company values the work of local non-profit organizations and has provided roofing work at no charge to God’s House of Hope in Kilmichael, the boys and girls homes in Grenada, and the Salvation Army in Greenwood. It provides that same support to the local community, with work done at the Winona Recreational Park and financial support to local law enforcement.
“We always like to help people,” Kris said. “We still give away a free roof every now and then for someone we feel is in need, and the gas and electric companies know they can call us if someone needs help paying their [utility bill] during a hard time.”
Kris said thanks to individuals reaching out to the company for help for specific families in need, the company has been able to lend a helping hand where help is really needed.