Tony Slabaugh teaches people the basics of being neighborly

Tony Slabaugh lives in the small town of Burnsville, W.V., a community of around 500 people. He and his wife moved there from Florida in 2006.

They enjoyed the Sunshine State for the ability to grow everything from native plants and trees to cherries and bananas. However, the couple explored a dream by relocating to West Virginia because it didn’t have any hurricanes, lizards, fire ants and only a minimal number of tornadoes.

“We have always enjoyed a gardening lifestyle, but we wanted to grow some different things,” Tony explained. “We moved to the mountains where we had green acres and elbow room to plant some trees. It’s almost heaven, as they say.”

Gardening is a hobby for Tony. He makes money managing a construction division for a modular home company. He oversees contractors who create a foundation for homes, connect them to utilities, and add porches, decks and garages – all the things that make a house a home.

“Modular homes are built off site and delivered to a property. When moving down the highway, they look like nice, large homes wrapped in plastic,” Tony explained. “They could be 2,000 to 3,000 square feet and come in all sizes with many options.”

Tony and his wife moved to West Virginia so they could slow down. He was 35 at the time and already felt like he was running hard through life.

“I like to build and create things as large as houses as well as things that are small and intricate,” he said.

A career in construction

Tony has been involved in the construction industry his entire career. In Florida, he worked on both residential and commercial buildings, specializing in backyard getaways and decorative work.

When he moved to West Virginia, Tony went to work for a firm that specialized in building log homes. After seven years, he knew his talents could be used elsewhere. About six months passed before joining a foundation repair and waterproofing company. There he moved from sales to production management to sales management and, finally, into developing a quality assurance position.

Eventually, there were some changes at the company, and Tony realized he no longer aligned with the firm’s mission.

“There is a saying that I embrace. If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, then I’m fitting in,” he explained. “I was trying to fit in, and wanted more freedom to do things I liked to do.”

So, Tony met with the owners to share his news. They called together the other managers and explained Tony was stepping away from the company so he could do more work from home and see what was next.

“They were very gracious and supportive of my decision,” said Tony. “Essentially, I opened the door and stepped through. I knew I would either step on something solid or I’d learn to fly.”

After leaving, he took two months off to help his father-in-law with a workshop they had been building for a while. The time provided space for Tony to consider his future.

“During that time, I promised my wife that, once a week, I would look at help wanted postings to see what was out there. One day, I saw a modular construction company advertising for help,” Tony explained. “The contact person was a man I had gone to church with years earlier. I sent him a text, which started a conversation and I eventually went up for a meeting.

“I met with the owner and we discussed his faith and values,” he added. “I could see where they were as a company and where they were headed. I saw some of the systems and procedures they were implementing to build better homes and create a better customer experiences, and I wanted to be part of that.”

The company’s owner discussed Tony’s personal goals as well as his track record of switching firms every seven or eight years. Because Tony was already 50, the owner wondered how long he could expect Tony to commit to the company.

“I said that five years from now, I plan on being at home, maybe with a napkin over my arm, serving at our restaurant and helping my wife. Or I’d be working on my nursery business or building things in the workshop and putting them up for sale,” Tony explained. “When I told him I could commit to three to five years, he said, ‘I can work with that.’“

The conversation continued as Tony worked at home to get the workshop dried in before an offer was made that he accepted. After starting the new job, Tony worked in the field for a while to see what the business did in building and assembling modular homes. Today, he manages one of the company’s departments.

“I have a commute that is about an hour long every day. I love to listen to books and podcasts. I have been through many different sales training seminars, business courses and self-development programs,” said Tony. “I could just listen to the radio like I did even 10 years ago. But, I’d rather work on myself so I can help our customers, my side business or my family even better.

“That hour is my optional time. I also listen to devotions, sermons and things of that nature,” he added.

Hello Good Neighbor

Before COVID turned the world upside down, Tony was working on a book of his own. In fact, he was so committed to completing his book that he stepped away from other obligations and volunteer projects to give it his full attention.

“As I approached my 50th birthday, I kept thinking how I was going to start giving back and sharing what I learned during my first 50 years,” said Tony. “I have a background in film and video from college, and I enjoy the creative process immensely, so I started a podcast that really has nothing to do with my day job.”

Although his book is still a work in progress, Tony wanted to convey some of the themes and lessons he planned to include in his manuscript. He has read or listened to so many self-improvement books, that Tony wanted to share his perspective about what he learned with others. So Tony started his own podcast and joined a mastermind group to explore options.

“At first, I wanted to talk about my commute and how it has changed. Then I thought about making it related to business,” he explained. “One night, I was put on a hotseat and people started asking me questions. I admitted that I was also working on trying to be better at my relationships.

“At some point, I brought up a conversation I had with my next door neighbor after moving to West Virginia. We both live in farm country with a fence between us,” Tony said. “One day, he walked over to the fence. When I joined him, he said, ‘Hello, good neighbor.’

“I liked that phrase and asked him where he came up with that,” Tony explained. “The man said that was how an older gentlemen would greet him as a child growing up in Pennsylvania.

“When I shared that with the group, they encouraged me to start a podcast talking about relationships. Even though it had nothing to do with business or construction, that’s where my passion was at that time,” Tony said.

“So I took that concept of ‘Hello Good Neighbor,’ and started a podcast. I would talk about a scripture verse from the Bible, like doing unto others as you would to yourself,” he explained. “I have not always been consistent in producing episodes, but I shared stories about life, interacting with people you come home to, and what you do to unload and unwind.

“I talk about how people treat their fur babies and their children, as well as people they meet on the street and at work,” he added. “How do you prepare for a meeting? When you open the door, how are you going to present yourself and what can you do for the individual you’re about to meet?”

Hello Good Neighbor is a soliloquy of one where Tony talks about whatever is on his mind. It could be a movie he just saw, as well as everyday things he encounters.

“It’s interesting in that people come up to me all the time and ask if I was speaking about them. I smile and say, you and a half dozen other people,” he explained. “They are always surprised to know other people do the same things they do.

“People see themselves in the context of stories I create, which is what I try to do in bringing relatable content to the audience, however big it may be,” he added.

Unique traits

Everyone has unique personality traits they were either born with or which were shaped by their environments, he noted. Consequently, Tony also discusses tough things people may be going through in their lives.

“As I’m talking, I’ll point out good things about the topic, but I realize some people may be on the other side of the good thing,” he said. “I want them to realize someone else has been in their shoes.

“The human experience allows us to have a variety of emotions,” Tony explained. “That’s even true for those people who aren’t able to communicate in the same way other people can.

“Technology has enabled people who haven’t been able to speak or hear to communicate with the world. They often say they’ve been able to hear everything that was said to them over the years and simply chose to move forward,” he added.

Moving forward

Many people have life-changing moments when they want to leave a career, a community or a relationship and simply start over.

“We have choices we can make regarding how we view each day,” said Tony. “I chose to be an optimist. I might have a furrowed look on my face when I’m contemplating something. But, I’m still positive about what lies on the other side of that.”

Tony remembers having a conversation with a client who had just turned 100 years old. He had a wonderful perspective on life.

“When I told him it must be amazing to have lived so long, he shook his head and said, ‘No, I’d rather be 70,’ said Tony. “I have held on to that ever since I heard it when I was 28 years old. It’s a perspective we should all share.”

Many other people would wish to be 18 or even 24 when they graduated from college, but the centenarian wanted to relive the years from age 70 to 100.

“There was something in his life at that point, age 70, that he still thought he could achieve,” said Tony. “Here I am, at 52, and I have half my life ahead of me.

“When I got married 28 years ago, I had a little pewter Jiminy Cricket on my groom’s cake. That’s because my motto at that time was, ‘I’m no fool, no siree. I’m going to live ‘til I’m 93,’“ Tony said. “I’ve always felt as though I’m going to keep moving forward regardless of what happens it life.

“Whether it’s 3, 5 or 10 years from now, I don’t know when I will leave my current position. But, when the time is right, and my wife and I feel it’s time to come home, then I’ll come home,” he added “She is already home and working on the farm. I’ll want to help it continue to grow. So, when it’s time, I’ll come home, too. Until then, I’ll just keep moving forward.”

No regrets

Tony isn’t the type of person who dwells on regrets. He knows there are situations in his life where he fell short of what needed to be done at the time. But, because he can’t change what happened, he chooses not to dwell on it.

“Years ago, I was the president of one of the largest garden clubs on the west coast of Florida. As president, I had to write a column for our newsletter, which was called ‘Pond Droppings,’“ he explained. “I titled my column ‘No rEgrets.’ Because when you’re in the water gardening world working with koi fish, egrets and heron birds are the bane of your existence.

“I realized if I do something that disappoints myself or others, or even the God I serve, I know there is still hope for the future. I will do what I can to make amends.

“Because I am human, I want to do better. I want to be a good neighbor,” Tony added. “So I don’t believe in regrets. Life is too short to play solitaire or to entertain regrets. We just need to put ourselves out there to serve others. The more we do that, the better life is.”

A new venture

Tony lives on a small farm with property on both sides of a river running through the area. It has a few outbuildings already, which he and his wife would like to repurpose into something with commercial value.

“It’s called ‘In The Nook Farm’ and we want to grow it into an agritourism business,” said Tony. “We would like to have a little restaurant, whether a deli or a tea house, as well as an art gallery.

“Ideally, I’d like to get up at 4 a.m. and bake some rolls, bread or other pastries. Then load them into a micro van and take them to the 400-plus people who live in Burnsville,” said Tony. “If that, or some kind of variation of it, is what we can do for the next half of our lives, then that’s what we are working toward.”

Start giving

People over 50 who are struggling to identify a purpose for their lives can start by simply serving others, Tony suggested.

“If you’re at a transition point, and don’t know what you’re going to do, then start by giving and serving,” he explained. “During those times, you can help at a local charity, the Salvation Army, any church or even help by reading to kids at a local library. There are so many things people can do to serve their community.

“Simply do an internet search for volunteer opportunities in your zip code and you’ll find something,” he added. “It may not be long-term, but it will be serving in a different way than you have been. Through it, you will learn something about yourself and develop a greater appreciation for others.

“Whether it’s two days, two weeks or a year later, you’re going to have a mind shift that will help propel you to the next stage of your life,” said Tony.

“Whether you’re 50, or whatever age you are, don’t sit at home and just watch TV. Don’t get lost in nothingness or busyness. Go out and serve in some way,” he added.

“It’s a great eye-opener when people discover what their next great thing is going to be,” he added. “We all have seasons to our life. Some people describe their 50s as being late summer or going into fall. But, fall is beautiful, isn’t it? Wintertime is also so refreshing. So there’s always hope for what’s to come.”

To connect with Tony, visit He also produces a second podcast called Good Night, Good Neighbor, which features good stories to wind down the day and cast off cares of the world. Both podcasts are available on Spotify, iTunes, Google and other distribution sites.