Monday, June 20, 2011

Happy Birthday, West Virginia!

148 years ago today, during the dark days of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation, designating West Virginia as the 35th state in the United States of America. The Mountain State owns the distinction of being the only state that came into being through a Presidential Proclamation.

The 55 counties that make up our beautiful state are as varied as the peoples who populate it. From the high mountains of Pocahontas County to the wide rolling Teays Valley; to the steel mills of Wheeling to the coal mines of McDowell County, West Virginia is a special place. Aging urban areas such as Huntington and Charleston have a rich history, and the growing, thriving areas of the eastern panhandle point to a bright exciting future. The good, God loving, family oriented people from Ohio County to Mercer County are a treasure which is unsurpassed by any population - anywhere!

I love West Virginia. And even though I have made my home just across the border in the Bluegrass State of Kentucky for three decades, I am still a West Virginian at heart. The words of "The West Virginia Hills" (our state song) still echo in my memory, all the way back from 3rd grade music class at Gallaher Elementary, where we learned it from Mrs. Susie Jimison. "... If o'er sea or land I roam, still I think of happy home, and my friends among the West Virginia hills!"

My love for West Virginia comes honest. My parents were born here. Many of my ancestors from the Adkins side of the family migrated here from England and Wales, by way of Henrico County, Virginia. My maternal Grandfather, Jerry Stidham, dearly loved the Mountain State. He came here as a young boy from his birthplace in "Bloody" Harlan County, Kentucky. He grew up in the coal camps of Logan County. A self educated man, who worked in the mines, he built a network of friends and acquaintances, and rose up the ladder of success. He went to work for the United Mine Workers of America, and eventually rose to a position as an International Representative with the UMWA. He served three terms in the West Virginia House of Delegates, and at the time of his death in 1968, he counted many past Governors, Congressmen, state legislators, and United States Senators as his friends.

Papaw Stidham dearly loved West Virginia, and in the early 60's he wrote this poem that showed his devotion to the Mountain State. He was named Poet Laureate of West Virginia, by then Governor Hulett C. Smith. I think it appropriate on this 148th birthday of the state he loved so much, to publish once again his poem, "A Particular Place".

A Particular Place

When God made the earth, He looked out in space,
And graciously blessed a particular place.
Some mountains He molded to begin His plan,
As He knew they would be cherished by mortal man.

The valleys He shaped so deep and so wide,
And the streams so swift, never to hide,
The sparkle or ripple from man's sharp eye,
So crystal and clear as if dropped from the sky.

The seasons He made, our desire to delight:
With light of the day and darkness at night,
Overcast with stars and a silvery moon
The sun in the heavens every day at noon.

With seeds of summer's green grass to grow,
Sleeping under the beauty of a winter's snow.
The gorgeous spring flowers for all to see,
And the abundant color of the autumn tree.

Game creatures for the bow and fish for the rod,
Rich fertile soil for the tiller of the sod.
Great beds of coal and timber galore,
Limestone and gas, very much in store.

So great, so fine, wonderful and rich,
A pleasant surprise in each corner and niche.
Nowhere you go will be the same,
For West Virginia is its name.

- Jerry Stidham

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