Bluefield Daily Telegraph
One of the books I used in 9th grade Pennsylvania Civics class was annotated with the singular quote: “Take a chance. Columbus did and look what he discovered.” Of course, as more details become available on the pre-Columbian settlements of North and South America, it’s obvious that Columbus merely tapped a fabulous pool of mineral and natural wealth that fueled European nation states to strive for new levels of wealth and power.
I was thinking about history when Christy Bailey called my name and I walked up to the stage of the Tamarack Conference Center to receive an award for research and documentation from the National Coal Heritage Area during the 2013 Coal Miners Celebration. I think about history all the time. I look for historic pathways that others ignore. I search for stories that most people have never heard anything about. I was deeply honored to be recognized for my work.
However, as I walked up the steps to the stage and Dr. Stephen J. Kopp, president of Marshall University — my wife’s almost mater — extended his hand to me and offered his congratulations to me, I responded by answering in a most profound way. I said, “I’m just glad I didn’t fall down walking up the steps.”
Without context, history doesn’t mean much. My friend, the late Dr. C. Stuart McGehee, once told me that a scholarly friend visited him for a weekend and witnessed his incredible popularity in the community. That was back in 1989 when McGehee was frequently on TV and in the newspapers talking about the city of Bluefield and its centennial celebration. In those days, McGehee was often introduced as “Mister Bluefield,” and he deserved the title. He knew his stuff and could rattle it off like nobody else’s business.
According to McGehee, as his colleague was leaving, his parting remarks were, “You know that your community is in trouble if an historian is the most popular person in town.” McGehee and I both got a good laugh out of that, but I often think about the statement in relation to my own passion for the past. In the end, I really don’t care. History can be mutated, but in its purest sense, it is the noble pursuit of the truth — just like newspapering. History has to navigate the mine fields fraught with agendas, distortions and deceit on the journey to seek truth. But upon arrival, truth really does set you free.
Rather than allow my remarks end at, “Glad I didn’t fall,” I must say that I have been absolutely blessed because God smiled down on me and put friends like Reba Honaker in my life. Reba nominated me for the award. I’m going to cry here, so I’ll move on. Christy Bailey has been a true friend every step of the way since we met, and I can’t thank my buddy, Kenneth Davidson, enough for driving to Beckley with me as my wing man to attend the gala banquet. Ken ran the press at Commercial Printing when I got serious about being a newsman.
Listening to Homer Hickam reminded me of Early Smith, Red Carroll, Bill Bolt — who just celebrated his 90th birthday — and Arnout “Sonny” Hyde. Arnout and I roamed around the southern counties of West Virginia in search of unique images and wonderful people. We found a multitude of both. That seems like such a long time ago, but time passes in a heartbeat so it’s important to enjoy every moment.
I dedicated my book, “McDowell County Legends” to the late Dr. Tom Hatcher. In terms of scholarly research, Tom Hatcher could beat me hands down. He really knew a lot about McDowell County history, but he was equally well-versed in Tazewell County, Va., and Mercer County history. Like a good educator, Tom pointed out the errors in my historical stories, but in a nice way. At the same time, he encouraged me when I got things right. I considered him to be a dear friend.
People like Mike Hornick, Eustace Frederick, Edna and Louie Drosick, Dr. Peyton Randolph Higginbotham, John Rankin, Heber Stafford, Melvin Grubb, Ellis Ray Williams, Eddie Steele, Nick Buzzo, Nell Bundy, Sam Johnson, Eva Esley, Joe and Sam Bundy and my wife, Evonda Archer, have opened doors for me that I would never have thought I would be able to enter. Any success I experience in life I owe to the fact that God has blessed me by putting so many wonderful people in my life who have been with me every step of the way.
Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.