Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 23, 2012

How to succeed in making a difference without really trying


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Several years ago, a woman called me here in the newsroom and had some specific questions about a historic piece of property in Bluefield. I had done a story on the property a week or two before the call, so most of the information was still fresh in my mind. I was able to provide the lady the answers to the questions she asked, and I thought I was doing what she wanted. However, after I answered all of her questions, she unloaded on me with both barrels.

How could I just sit back and let a historic structure like the one she asked about decay and vanish? Why didn’t I drop everything I was doing, and spend all my energy and resources on the fight to save that one building? How could I sleep at night knowing that the building would soon self-destruct? Why wasn’t the community called into action to save the building?

Before her cancer came out of remission, my sister Peggy jumped through all the legal hoops she needed to clear in order to buy the home next to ours on Main Street in Claysville, Pa. A spinster sister and brother — Carolyn and Foxy Allender — spent their lives in the brick building that was built in 1814 and was first used as a tavern on the Old National Pike. When Peggy bought it, the National Pike, a road that roughly follows the same lines as U.S. Route 40, had changed its course somewhat. You had to think like an archaeologist to envision how the old road and the Allender home dove-tailed, but I enjoy thinking like an archaeologist.

The house was paid off when Peggy died 22 years ago today. At the time, my brother Stu was using Carolyn’s part of the house to strip furniture for his furniture-restoring business. Most of the old oak floors were rotting out, and there was no way to secure the building properly. The year after Peggy died, Stu died and Mom suffered her stroke. The first letter I got from anyone at Mom’s post office box was a letter from her insurance company notifying me that mom’s insurance coverage on her house and the 1814 tavern had been canceled.

Even though I visited frequently, cut the grass, raked the leaves and kept the utilities on at both homes, I became the villain when a developer contacted Mom to purchase the properties with the thought of developing a housing complex on the two lots for elderly folks.

Our house on Main Street was built circa 1860, but I thought the housing complex was a good idea and Mom thought it was an answer to prayers. She wanted to live in the new complex, and so did several of her friends. Eventually, the deal soured, and the visions of sugar plums that had been dancing in my head, started dancing in the head of a property owner a little closer to the heart of downtown Claysville.

The local paper admonished the property owner (me) for not appreciating heritage because I was willing to do away with an historic structure. The editorial writer couldn’t have known that I had contacted the Pennsylvania Historical Society to ask if there were grants available to save, preserve and insure structures like the old tavern. The person I spoke with said there were not, but I could get a plaque designating the property as historic ... for $300.

I didn’t go that route. Instead, I sold the property to a church that planned to raze the structure and put in a parking lot. Our prayers were answered when a young couple bought Mom’s home and fixed it up to make it the showplace Mom always dreamed it would be. That part of the story is real good, because the kids we sold the house to raised two beautiful children in a loving, home environment.

Now, traveling back in time to the lady who called me to express how upset she was with me for not leading a charge to save a structure that she thought needed to be saved, I waited until she got everything out, and I simply asked: “Where do you live now, and what do you do for a living?” She responded that she lived in eastern Maryland and that she had a management position. My response to her was: “Why don’t you drop everything you’re doing, sell off your assets, move here and start working to preserve the structure you’re concerned about?” I told her she might want to anticipate some lifestyle changes and that she might have to consider a different career path, but I said that there are plenty of opportunities for people to make a difference here if they really want to.

Of course, she didn’t like what I said, and hung up on me. I work hard to provide a comfortable home for my family, but I also work hard to report the news, write history, entertain and do my best to make communities in the region better places for everyone. I was a well-paid boiler operator before I came here. I am no longer in that tax bracket, but that doesn’t matter. Each day, I have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the community. Everyone, regardless of where they are, has the exact same opportunity.

Bill Archer is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.