Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 30, 2013

Looking into the emptiness of a story that is just waiting to be told

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — A week ago today, someone came up to me at a holiday party and said, “This time of year must be tough on you as a newsman, because you’re really never off duty.” I immediately corrected him and said that I’m off on Mondays and Tuesdays, and said that on that particular night, I wasn’t working. Someone else walked up and said, “Better watch what you say, because he’ll put it in the paper tomorrow.”

I wish I could remember who it was that said this time of year must be tough on me, because I would have put his name in this column. Within a matter of moments, Pete Sarver asked me how I remember everything that I remember, and I responded that I had already forgotten what someone was telling me just moments before that. Then I said, “When I’m working, I take notes.”

I try to approach each day like it is a fresh Etch-A-Sketch pad, that way I’m always surprised by what I see and do. When I come back to write a story, everything is fresh and new to me even when I’ve been through the exact same thing every year and in some instances, several times every year. I never tire of being excited by the way things turn out. All news is non-fiction all the time, and it changes every day. Even when the event is weekly, monthly or annually, the outcome doesn’t have to be predictable.

The gathering I attended last week was something different. Tom Cole acquired the building that housed the West Virginia Business College many years ago. The college entrance was located on Commerce Street. Like many structures in town, the old building had been vacant in recent years — having most recently housed Club 304, and before that, the Cow Palace on the Raleigh Street level.

Several years ago, I had a recurring dream about a long-forgotten marble staircase that led to an elaborate suite in a downtown Bluefield building. The suite included ornate Corinthian-style pillars and an indoor pool — all of which had been unused for decades. It was an interesting place to visit in my dreams.

Erik Robinson told me that while working on the building, a marble staircase had been uncovered. I remember telling the late Dr. C. Stuart McGehee about the unusual dream I was having, but at the time, I thought it was in a high-rise building like the West Virginian Manor. There was a lot of stuff going on that night, so I didn’t get to see the staircase. However, the thought was stuck in my mind.

I’m not much of a person for going out. I get up early, put about all the energy and effort I can muster into my work and go home. Before my heart attacks, I had enough in the tank to work seven days a week, but I don’t have that kind of strength any more. Dr. Javed told me to resume normal activity, but I don’t think he knew what my pre-heart attack normal was. These days, I have to rest a lot more than I did a few years ago.

But 30 years ago, I used to dream of uncovering marble staircases in some of Bluefield’s majestic structures. When I was working with kids through the WE CAN program, I inquired about the cost of the old Blanks Paint Store on Raleigh Street, and heard a figure that was way out of my price range.

I remember visiting with Hartley Mays for hours on end in the upstairs of that structure in 1983 when I was communications chairman of the local United Fund drive. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that the building was the old State Theater — last of the city’s great theaters that opened in 1942.

A quarter of a century ago, I could see the potential for some of the things that are now taking shape, but I was never in a position to push forward. Now, I can see things happening, and I think it’s great.

On Sunday afternoon, Dec. 22, I stood inside the old Royal Theater in Princeton and watched as nearly 100 children waited to see Santa at the Brothers of the Wheel/DHHR Christmas party. On the very next day, I walked down a brand new, cloistered sidewalk on Commerce Street in Bluefield and enjoyed the newness of a part of Bluefield that is on the verge of the opening of a new era.

I’m proud of all the young folks that are getting involved in community service in a myriad of ways, and I’m equally proud of the old folks who appear to be eager to provide support — financially and by cheering from the sidelines. When I entered the old West Virginia Business College, I had the feeling that, perhaps, we have turned a corner. Even though I’m over the hill, I am eager to report on what happens in 2014. It’s like the Etch-A-Sketch panel has been cleared. Look out tomorrow because today is already yesterday.

Bill Archer is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at