Honoring West Virginia’s History Through Exploration

Date Written by Jason Keeling on June 20, 2012

West Virginia has an intriguing history, and on today’s 149th anniversary of statehood, learning more about the Mountain State’s past might be one of the best ways to honor it, particularly as next year’s sesquicentennial milestone approaches.

Doing so helps us gain insight into how our ancestors lived, the struggles they faced, their positive experiences, and how these factors have shaped modern West Virginia.

Both natives and “outsiders” can appreciate perspective that goes beyond stereotypes and instead humanizes. Consider the tremendous success and positive reception of History Channel’s Hatfields & McCoys miniseries.

In coming months, this blog will explore works on West Virginia history. Please comment with your recommendations and thoughts regarding notable books, essays, films, songs, and paintings that should be highlighted.

Today, Let’s Think About West Virginia’s Tomorrow

Date Written by Jason Keeling on June 20, 2011

West Virginia is unique, in both wonderful and disappointing ways. Various aspects of our culture are endearing. Some of our cities and towns have much to offer. Many of our schools and professionals are notable. Much of our natural world is captivating.

But today, on the 148th anniversary of the state’s founding, perhaps we should truly examine the statement that “Mountaineers Are Always Free.” Perhaps we should think about the many challenges that exist, and look more realistically at the road ahead.

Maybe we should ask ourselves: Why do so many residents experience physical and mental health problems? Why do we fail to hold more political representatives accountable? Why do we pay closer attention to college sports than our legislative process? Why are some of our people forced to sacrifice their environments for subsistence? Why do so many of our youth choose to reside elsewhere?

This is a rather critical point-of-view, but aren’t you also tired of listening to our state’s apologists, who lament that we’re heading in the right direction, while contrary statistics stare us in the face. We say “world changers” are needed, yet people offering different ideas about the state’s future are stereotyped as radicals.

On this West Virginia Day, take a look around your communities, and if you notice significant things that are not being made right: Get mad, stand up, speak out. And if you’re not willing to do any of those things, move from the way of those that will.

Standing Up for Sportsmanship in West Virginia

Date Written by Jason Keeling on June 15, 2011

Athletics provide a favorite pastime for many West Virginians. Whether participating or spectating, sports offer us an outlet to break from everyday demands and enjoy the excitement of competition.

Parallels are often drawn between life and the games we play. To be successful requires preparation, dedication, teamwork, perseverance and execution. However, a key element within this equation is defining success.

Unfortunately, today’s sports culture has devolved somewhat into a place where winning is worshiped and losing is detested. Given the hundreds of millions spent marketing the “winners” of professional and college sports, it’s easy to be conditioned into thinking victory is the sole definition of success.

From Loss to Victory

Last year’s game ending playoff brawl between Hurricane and South Charleston high school football players marked a low point in West Virginia sports history. Benches cleared, fans jeered, suspensions ensued, and the state Supreme Court ultimately weighed in on the matter. It was an ugly series of events; in essence, everyone lost.

Months later, it’s refreshing to see several of the players embroiled in the above controversy have been brought together by the same sport that originally divided them.

In preparation for the North-South Football Classic, they have put the melee behind them, the Charleston Gazette’s Mitch Vingle reports. In fact, they’ve actually become friends to a certain degree, taking time to discuss the incident, apologize, and realize commonalities supersede their differences.

The future holds much opportunity for these young men, and it seems they’ve learned a lot since last November. Such maturity will help them achieve victory in the most important challenge they’ll face, the game of life.

Marketing West Virginia’s People and Places Online

Date Written by Jason Keeling on May 31, 2011

The Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program at West Virginia University has expanded rapidly over the last several years. Their first official conference is June 3/4 in Morgantown.

As one of the nation’s more rural states, West Virginia has traditionally been seen as disconnected from much of the country. However, as state businesses, organizations and residents become more “wired,” via the Internet and mobile devices, the more we’re able to demonstrate in fact, we are quite capable, relevant, and connected.

It’s important to recognize that each of our virtual spaces provide ideal means for appropriately promoting our causes, businesses and regions. But this requires a degree of marketing savvy, whether we’re in professional sales, an everyday employee or a small business type.

In concurrence with the INTEGRATE 2011 conference, we’re trying to generate some online discussion. Please tell us how your organization or business is maximizing the Web’s marketing potential. Or maybe you know of others who are effectively using the Internet to support their passions. Either way, your examples/comments are welcomed.

Buffalo Creek: Remembering the Disaster

Date Written by Jason Keeling on February 26, 2011

Aerial view of Buffalo Creek aftermath. - The Herald-Dispatch - File PhotoHistory is filled with tragic events. Moments characterized by pain, the loss of lives, and human malice or error. These instances compel the public’s attention; they lead us to pause, empathize, and reflect on what’s happened.

But over time, we tend to go about our day-to-days and forget, while those people impacted quietly rebuild their worlds. As for the rest of us, the least we can do is remember, and perhaps be moved to help right a few wrongs.

Hell On Earth

Feb. 26, 1972, several communities throughout Logan County experienced hell on earth. After the failure of a coal waste impoundment, 132 million gallons of black liquid slurry ripped across the land, destroying most everything in its path, killing 125 individuals, leaving over 1,000 people injured, 4,000 homeless, and causing $50 million in property damage given the destruction of over 500 homes.

Denying our past is no way to establish a better future, and with this in mind, let’s solemnly remember victims of the Buffalo Creek flood.

An Age-Old Pattern

Observe the below records to discover some unsettling details, such as tepid government oversight of the dam prior to its failure, the minimal restitution paid by the responsible company and allowed by state leaders, the pittance of a settlement received by survivors, and the subsequent psychological distress experienced within the Buffalo Creek communities.

These troubling facts are part of an age-old pattern in West Virginia and Appalachia, whereby industrial endeavors are valued above people and places. Even today, some of our prominent political figures seem to be working against environmental protection efforts intended to further shield citizens from harm.

It’s important to remember Buffalo Creek, to recognize the lost, recount the grave costs, and be reminded of our responsibility to promote economic, social and environmental justice.


West Virginia State Archives: Buffalo Creek

Charleston Gazette, 1997 Series: Voices of Buffalo Creek

Herald-Dispatch: Photo Gallery - The Buffalo Creek Flood

Mimi Pickering film: “Buffalo Creek - An Act of God” |� Excerpt

American Minor song: “Buffalo Creek” |� Lyrics

- Photo Credits: The Herald-Dispatch

‘Essays on a West Virginia Childhood’ Enters New Phase

Date Written by Jason Keeling on February 22, 2011

Elizabeth Gaucher, \Last year blogger Elizabeth Gaucher originated an online writing project that encouraged others to connect by recounting their childhoods. She believes reflecting on and articulating childhood experiences can help the individual writer and reader to interpret life more clearly.

When she first conceived the idea, here were a few of her initial thoughts:

“When you Google “West Virginia childhood” or “Appalachian children,” let’s just say it’s not exactly a joy-fest. I’m interested in bringing diversity to the equation through a combination of elements: the eras of childhood, the age and gender of the children in the stories, humor and seriousness, economic circumstances, surrounding characters, setting, and theme.”

Hence, the Essays on a West Virginia Childhood collaboration was formed, and Gaucher unexpectedly began connecting with people like Anne Clinard Barnhill, a published author raised in the Mountain State. Her Winter Solstice essay drew the attention of several other professional writers to Gaucher’s blog, Esse Diem.

Interestingly, Gaucher reports all of the essays in the series were viewed and shared almost equally from a statistical perspective, and she credits the writers’ own networks for driving interest in the project. ”Networking with social media truly is a snowball,” she says. ”It takes some time to gain momentum, but when it does, stand back!”

The Power of Experiences

Essays to date have dealt with ethnic diversity, coming to grips with personal sexual orientation, mentoring by a beloved grandparent, and negotiating adolescent drama. Gaucher is already rolling into a new phase of the project, Essays on Childhood: A Sense of Place, which expands the theme beyond West Virginia experiences to connect with childhood in any place.

She writes: ”Being honest with ourselves, being vulnerable, and being real is important. As we go, not all essays will be about the beauty of childhood. I think one of the most valuable things that can happen in the project’s development is to provide a place to reflect on parts of childhood that are not easy or kind. Either way, I know the project will keep moving forward, and only grow in its mission to reveal the influence and power of our experiences as children on who we are today.”

What’s Your Story?

For those interested in writing for the project, Gaucher asks that you indicate such via comment here and she will follow up. For those who’d like to share a bit of perspective, but not submit a full essay, feel free to comment with your thoughts as well.

How has growing up in West Virginia influenced the person you are today? Or if you are raising children here, how do you think our state’s culture, environment, and people are shaping those children?

West Virginia Veterans, We Salute You

Date Written by Jason Keeling on November 11, 2010

From the Civil War to Operation Iraqi Freedom, over 200,000 West Virginians have served their country, offering more troops than any other state, on a per capita basis. They epitomize the definitions of duty and service.

On this Veterans Day, think of the time spent away from families, the stresses of being in harm’s way, and the many who lost their lives, making an ultimate sacrifice. As civilians, let’s respect, remember, and celebrate those who have so selflessly and bravely defended the nation.

If you would like to honor a specific Veteran or leave a general statement of thanks, please submit a comment to recognize your heroes. They deserve much praise.