News center
Our products are easy to use, convenient and safe

Missouri welder making name for herself and other women in welding

Oct 14, 2023

DeIla Ray is a Missouri-based welder whose trades career began in North Dakota. Since then, she's been involved in numerous structural and pipe welding projects, started her own business, became a welding instructor, and has been a fierce advocate for women in industry. Images: Crabill Photo Co., DeIla Ray

Ten years ago, DeIla Ray took a fire watch job in North Dakota. It was pretty much what you would expect—she kept an eye out for any potential fires on the job site. Not the most exciting job, but at least the pay was good, she said.

It was here that she saw welding for the first time and struck her first arc.

The rest, as they say, is history—or as she described it, "Sparks flew."

She's held on to welding ever since. DeIla has pipe welded on job sites across the country, with each location and job unique. She teaches future welders as an instructor for the Davis H. Hart Career Center in Mexico, Mo., where she lives today. And she and husband Jack Ray started a small fabrication business.

DeIla's career path has evolved since those days in North Dakota. She's earned opportunities that she hopes will help or inspire other women in the industry. Her path has been a far cry from the one she originally imagined for herself.

"[I] thought I was going to college for a psychology degree [to] work towards occupational therapy but here I am. It's something I never imagined in my wildest dreams.

"I love where I'm at right now, I love what I'm doing," said Ray. "Going into the trades is just one of the best things I’ve done in my life."

The 52 students she taught last semester were the first of what she hopes will be many more. In fact, it was her first experience in a welding lab ever. She never attended a vocational school or enrolled in a welding program—all her welding knowledge came through on-the-job experience.

DeIla said if anyone had told her she’d be an instructor a year ago, she’d tell them they were crazy.

"It's wild to me that this is now a possibility just because I said yes to trying something new," she added.

Jack and DeIla Ray have worked together for several years. They recently founded Alpha Duo LLC, a small fabrication business.

Her work in structural and pipe welding has sent her to compressor stations, refineries, water treatment and wastewater treatment facilities, food processing facilities, sanitary systems for hemp extraction, among others.

Jack—a fabricator and fitter who's been with her on many of these work assignments—described her as tough in more ways than one.

"She is one of those people that she's not going to hold back if she's right and you’re wrong, especially if it's putting down others—she's not going to have that," said Jack Ray. "She's the type to tell you how important it is to sweep around the area, both figuratively and literally."

Once DeIla ventured into welding, she and Jack traveled to jobs side-by-side in a camper. While this lifestyle brought the two closer together, it also kept them far from home. After almost a decade of traveling, the two settled in Mexico, Mo., and stopped the nomadic lifestyle.

In 2020, the Rays formed Alpha Duo LLC, a welding and fabrication business. "He is the fabricator, and I am the welder," DeIla said.

To this point, projects have included tattoo parlor chairs, pipe welding work, metal art, weld tutoring, and one-on-one work.

The 1,200-sq.-ft. shop isn't big, but it is a "mansion" compared to the small trailer the two hauled when they worked on the road.

"We kind of want to build it ourselves slowly and not have a $500,000 business loan and bite off more than we can chew while not knowing the game. We want to learn the game while we’re making money," said Jack.

On working together, he said it is a continuation of what made them succeed when they were on the road.

"She's always been the one to make a job easier," Jack said.

Ray helped build a 9/11 memorial for the Pleasant Valley Fire Department in Pleasant Valley, Mo. The memorial was unveiled in 2021 to mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

"I couldn't imagine having a better partner in life, my spouse and my work partner," DeIla said of working with Jack.

"We want to be alpha in all aspects," she added. "We want to use our ability and knowledge and creativity to produce work that is unique, that nobody else has, and that will have people reach out to us about and say, ‘Hey, I’ve seen you do this. I’m looking for something nobody else has—can you do that for us?’"

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the American Welding Society both report about 5% of welders are women. DeIla described welding not as a male-dominated profession but rather a "male-populated" one.

In her time in metal fabrication, she's seen firsthand how that has posed challenges. For instance, personal protective equipment (PPE) has historically catered to men. Now, she's seeing a shift on that front.

Some PPE providers offer gear with women welders in mind. DeIla said she's been involved in the testing of prototype caps, boots, and workwear from some PPE providers looking to keep women safe and comfortable in shops and out in the field.

"It's great to see products and PPE and concern for our safety now being more important. Whereas before you would just get what the company would get or buy what's on the shelf and good luck if it fits," she said.

DeIla believes interest among women in welding is growing overall. A school group visited the career center recently. What surprised her was the majority were girls.

"You don't typically see that in a welding shop," she said. "A shift is happening."

When asked what advice she has for women in the industry or those interested in joining, DeIla acknowledges there will be those who won't believe they can make it and some biases to overcome.

"But so long as there is that internal belief. Remember that sometimes you need to fail in order to succeed. Even if you don't do well right out of the gate, don't let that become a roadblock," she said. "If it's something that you’re interested in, something you have a curiosity in but [are] afraid that you’re the only one there, good. Make [your] presence be known there, be the presence. Make that change there. Let them know that women can do it as well as men."

DeIla welds in the drop-down ceiling above the hallway of a water treatment facility in Fargo, N.D.

All these opportunities have given DeIla a pathway to expand her capabilities in welding. For instance, her involvement with the women in welding community in Missouri led to her participation in building a 9/11 memorial for the Pleasant Valley Fire Department in Pleasant Valley, Mo. Unveiled in 2021 to mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the memorial encloses twisted, bent metal from ground zero inside two carbon steel cages meant to look like the twin towers.

"It's different from my years of work" in welding other things, she said of the memorial. "It was a great way to expand my skills even more."

Meanwhile, DeIla's involvement with industry advocacy group This One's For The Gals has offered opportunities for her to learn more and inspired her to attempt underwater welding someday.

"That would be amazing to do," she said. "I have some fear of the water. But in the name of welding, bring it on."

DeIla's work and efforts have already received some accolades. The group Empowering Women in Industry named her its 2020 Tradeswoman of the Year and its 2022 Mentor of the Year and Industry Advocacy winner. She also serves on the board of directors of the Central Missouri chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction.

"The power of networking brought to me this community where there really are other women in industry," she said. "Once I've seen it and found out about it, I just jump in whenever I think it's worthwhile. When there's organizations and companies that take the time to want to support women in industry, I want to recognize that just as much as they want to recognize me."

Della's work in structural and pipe welding has taken her to compressor stations, refineries, water treatment and wastewater treatment plants, food processing plants, and hemp extraction plants.