Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Bill Archer

March 10, 2014

Success in business with a servant’s heart, Dick Copeland cared for people

— — For 11 consecutive years, Dick Copeland made our trips to Saltville, Va., a little more comfortable than they might have been otherwise. Even the time that Dick had a blowout on one of his rear wheels that damaged his radiator and had to be repaired in Rural Retreat, Va., he still made the trip — always at his own expense and always with a smile on his face.

It was a kind of trip that most folks wouldn’t consider participating in, but instead of ignoring something he didn’t fully understand, he asked questions on every trip. His job was to supply the huge motor home for transport of the children and honored speakers, as well as to drive the motor home to Saltville for an evening memorial service and back to Bluefield. Through the years, he had some prestigious passengers on the ride including Ms. Suzanne Slaughter, Deacon Samuel Johnson, Constance (Thompson) Pannell, Sgt. Major James Baylor, James Sims, J. Franklin Long, Joseph Bundy, Alcesta and Harold Wells and many more.

The youth that participated in those ceremonies have mostly finished college and are in the early stages of starting their careers. Daniel Wells, Dexter Moore, Ronnell Thompson and many more made the trip and learned a great deal about a little known moment in African American history. That moment took place on Oct. 2, 1864, and involved a frontal assault up a steep hillside to Chestnut Ridge overlooking the North Fork of the Holston River during the American Civil War.

When I was busy working with Deacon Karl Miller setting up the sound system at the Battlefield Overlook, Dick would ask serious questions about the event that brought us all to Saltville on those evenings. I didn’t mind pausing to share what little I knew about the event, but was also glad to introduce Dick to Eleanor Jones, Jim Boardwine, Terry Hunt, Charlie Bill Toten and others whose knowledge of the history on that site was way more than I might ever hope to understand.

When there was a question that I could answer, Dick seemed to drink it all in, nod his head and study his surroundings. When he asked about the services themselves, I could answer them without much hesitation. The services were based on prayer, praise and remembering the soldiers of the 5th and 6th US Colored Cavalry who died during and after the battle of Saltville. We lit luminaries in the fashion that the late Edna Drosick came up with to remember the 114 coal miners who died in the March 13, 1884, explosion at the East Mine in Pocahontas, Va. We set out American flags beside each luminary.

The climax of the services was always Sam Johnson reading the names of the men of the 5th and 6th USCC who are still listed as missing in action from the battle. David Brown, a great grandson of one of the survivors of the battle, found the names of the missing in the National Archives. He attended a few of the services and even brought several members of his family. It was part of what made the trips so special.

Dick Copeland always seemed to ask questions with a kind of wide-eyed, childlike inquisitiveness that brought a smile to his face. During those years and even after that time when health concerns caused me to reduce some of the more physically challenging community service projects I had been involved with, Dick continued to ask me in September if we were going back to Saltville that year.

To me, Dick was a successful businessman with a servant’s heart. He enjoyed sharing the story of how he worked with Grady Carper, who built the Oakwood Motor Court near the southern terminus of the West Virginia Turnpike in Princeton. He even brought a registration card to show me one that was signed by (then) U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy during his West Virginia Primary Election campaign in 1960. It didn’t surprise me at all that Dick would have that card. He had an appreciation for history and he was one of the people who chronicled his time with his life.

Dick would have been proud to know that many fellow veterans attended his funeral service at Seaver Funeral Home last Thursday. He was proud of the time he served aboard the U.S.S. Vestal — a U.S. Navy repair ship that was conducting routine maintenance on the U.S.S. Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Dick joined the crew of the Vestal in 1944 after she was seaworthy again and back in service. He shared the story of his service aboard the ship with Princeton area students, and about everyone else he knew.

Dick Copeland had many friends, and I was humbled that he numbered me among them. Of course, I knew him for the tireless efforts he put into the Mercer Street park that now bears his name — Dick Copeland Square — but I also knew him for his service to our Saltville ceremonies. His motor home and his gracious hospitality were two of the things many people fondly recall of those trips.

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

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