Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center Landscaping Manager Rosalyn "Roddy" Ray retires from the organization on March 14 after 27 years of service.
Horticulturalist Ray is the longtime force of nature behind the landscaping and curation of more than 800 acres of the lake's grounds and gardens.
"I've seen many beautiful sunrises in my years as a landscaper at Lake Junaluska, but now I'm looking forward to seeing some beautiful sunsets," said Ray, whose retirement plans include staying involved at the lake, spending more time with family and travelling with her husband. The couple's first trip following Ray's retirement is to see the Arizona desert in bloom.
"Roddy's been blooming all these years at the lake," said Don Ebaugh, Lake Junaluska Director of Property Management. "She's a fixture in the community – an incredibly hard worker who has given her whole life to this place. Pick any garden on campus and her hand has been in it."
Ray has famously applied her knowledge and love of roses to the renowned Rose Walk at Lake Junaluska. Conceived in 1962 by Dr. Lee F. Tuttle, the World Methodist Council General Secretary from 1960 to 1976, the garden features more than 200 hybrid tea, grandiflora and floribunda roses. As a child, Ray was introduced to Dr. Tuttle by her paternal grandmother Myrtle Massie Ray.
"I'm sure he'd be pleased with the tradition he began," she said.
In addition to tending to the Rose Walk, Ray has created gardens and parks in collaboration with colleagues, homeowners, The Junaluskans and the Lake Junaluska Associates. These creations include the Biblical Garden, Inspiration Point, the Susanna Wesley Garden, the Gattis Meditation Garden and Weatherby Park.
"The impact of Roddy's leadership is seen throughout the 16 gardens that provide an amazing backdrop for all who live at or visit Lake Junaluska," said Lake Junaluska Executive Director Ken Howle.
While Ray is particularly fond of the Biblical Garden and Inspiration Point, she cites the bonsai juniper outside the Earl and Martha Wilson Children's Complex as one of her favorite projects.
In 1993 the then massive juniper was slated for removal. Ray climbed inside the plant to examine it and fell in love with its "beautiful branch structure." She was inspired to preserve the juniper as a focal point, working with a team of colleagues for a week and a half to prune it to resemble a bonsai.
"There were probably five of us working on it and we're very, very proud of it today," said Ray. "It just turned out to be spectacular."
Ray, a native of Haywood County, grew up attending Bible school and youth events at Lake Junaluska. She developed her passion for horticulture while gardening with her grandmothers Myrtle Massie Ray and Marie McCracken.
A graduate of Tuscola High School and of Haywood Community College's horticultural program, Ray was recruited to the lake from Waynesville Country Club by her now husband Jay Langford in 1992. She accepted the landscaping position on the condition that Lake Junaluska build a greenhouse so plants could be grown from seed.
With funding secured, Langford, Ray and a team of property management staff built a 40-by-70-foot greenhouse within months of Ray's start date.
The new greenhouse was packed with plants for spring planting when the blizzard of March 1993 hit Western North Carolina.
"There was so much snow on the greenhouse I was worried it would collapse and we’d lose all our plants," said Ray. "I prayed about it and it just popped into my head to turn up the heat, so I did – and sure enough the snow cracked down the center and avalanched down the sides of the greenhouse!"
Today the greenhouse remains the center of landscaping operations at the lake – the place where Ray and the landscaping team have raised thousands of annual and perennial plants every year.
Lake Junaluska landscaper Melissa Tinsley, who steps into the manager position on Ray's retirement, is also a graduate of Haywood Community College's horticultural program. She first heard about Ray and her landscaping contributions to Lake Junaluska while enrolled in the program.
"She is a legend in the industry," said Tinsley. "I'm going to miss her presence, her wealth of knowledge and our daily conversations. Having the last year and a half to learn from her has been amazing."
While Ray's landscaping contributions to Lake Junaluska's grounds and gardens are enormous, her community contributions are equally impressive.
Through the years, Ray has worked with hundreds of volunteers to ensure the beauty of the lake, from community partners to local and national organizations such as Nomads On a Mission Active in Divine Service. She has also contributed her knowledge and talents to garden tours and clubs, rose shows, and Road Scholar, Elder Hostel and public programs.
Ray's career highlights include a feature article in the 2003 American Rose Society Magazine, the 2011 Marketing Association for Rehabilitation Centers Award from Haywood Vocational Opportunities, and the 2013 Haywood Community College Outstanding Alumni Award.
While proud of her achievements, Ray is quick to point out they were only made possible by the love and support she received from the Lake Junaluska community.
"This was my calling," she said. "God meant for me to work at Lake Junaluska, and I am forever blessed by the relationships I have made here. 'Surely the Presence of the Lord is in This Place' is my favorite hymn and it describes how I feel about Lake Junaluska."
During The Junaluskans' monthly meeting on March 7 with Ray in attendance, Margaret McCleskey, a member of the Biblical Garden's steering committee, announced that gifts given in honor of Ray's retirement will go towards the construction of a gate, part of the ongoing Biblical Garden project.
The Biblical Garden, located on the front grounds of the Bethea Welcome Center, is one of the longtime landscaper's "special places," incorporating plants mentioned in the Bible, including herbs, figs, pomegranates and vines.
Ray was heavily involved with the garden from its conception and served as an advisor. It is also the place where she and Langford held their wedding ceremony in 2016.
The eventual gate, a roofed gateway in the style of an English churchyard lychgate, will welcome all who visit the Biblical Garden for its beauty and peace. It will be constructed from the same timber and stone as that of the Welcome Center to ensure visual continuity.
"The Biblical Garden Gate offers an opportunity for us all to create a lasting tribute to Roddy's considerable contributions," said McCleskey. "Her work at the lake goes beyond a job description – it's a commitment and a calling."
To make a gift in honor of Ray, visit lakejunaluska.com/support or call 828-454-6749. Please add "Roddy" to the memo line when giving.
To learn more about Lake Junaluska's gardens and places of meditation, visit https://www.lakejunaluska.com/activities/places_of_meditation/.
Lake Junaluska is a conference and retreat center and residential community that surround a 200-acre mountain lake in Western North Carolina. Lake Junaluska’s mission is to serve as a place of Christian hospitality where lives are transformed through renewal of soul, mind and body. For more information, visit lakejunaluska.com.