Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 30, 2014

Open for business, but always ‘wild and wonderful’ in many hearts


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Who are we, and what is our defining label? As a lifelong resident of the great state with two panhandles, I should not have to ask this question.

We are Mountaineers. Proud and strong people. Folks who greet challenges with a can-do attitude. We keep our culture and history close at hand while greeting the future with open arms.

lll

Several years ago, this simple question was a hot-button topic. Under the administration of then-Gov. Joe Manchin, the words “Open for Business” began greeting visitors crossing the border into West Virginia.

At the time, many folks yearned for the familiar “Wild, Wonderful West Virginia” that graced welcome signs in years past. But as governors changed so did the slogan.

For years “Open for Business” was quietly frowned upon by numerous residents and openly mocked by others. But perhaps it was the license plate fiasco that initiated the beginning of the end for the much-loathed slogan.

When lawmakers debated adding the phrase to the familiar white, blue and gold plate, some women protested. They did not want to drive around with “Open for Business” on their vehicle.

Duly, and respectfully, noted.

As the flames were fanned the discontent grew. Online protests. Outrage at water coolers. Mutinous talk in barbershops and hair salons.

“Open for Business” had to go. And, suddenly, the governor not only agreed, but upped the ante.

The signs would be changed, and the people of the state so vocally protesting the slogan would select the new one.

lll

Maybe it’s the pride in our culture that makes us yearn for the familiarity of the past when we look toward our future. Certainly, that seemed the case when the initial round of voting resulted in three finalists for the welcome sign slogan.

“Almost Heaven.”

“The Mountain State.”

“Wild, Wonderful.”

Together, these three phrases evoke memories and emotions stirred by all things great in West Virginia. Yet look at them separately and the distinctions are obvious.

“The Mountain State” is certainly representative of West Virginia, but it is our nickname and not a slogan. Just as our neighbor to the south is often referred to as the Commonwealth, we will always bear this label that is so descriptive of our rugged and beautiful terrain.

Many would suggest that “Almost Heaven” is also a characteristic of our state — and who could argue? Perhaps most widely known due to the famous John Denver tune “Country Roads,” the words “almost heaven” are synonymous with West Virginia. Not just here at home, but across the globe.

And now, thanks to a recent legislative vote, “Country Roads” is officially one of our state songs.

While the husband and I were vacationing in the Caribbean a few years ago, we were questioned by a server in a restaurant about our distinctive accents. The waiter was a resident of the island. After we proudly told him where we lived, he immediately began singing “Country Roads” — in his own heavily accented voice.

It was an unforgettable moment. One that made me realize that no matter where an individual grows up or resides, when those familiar lyrics are sung everyone in the room has a little bit of West Virginia in their blood.

lll

And so the final option: “Wild, Wonderful.”

Many who grew up in West Virginia have a common thread among their vacation memories from the 1970s. Whether traveling to Myrtle Beach during “miners’ vacation” or to a nearby state to visit relatives, on the return trip there was always a familiar greeting welcoming one back.

How many families through the years chanted “Wild, wonderful West Virginia!” when they crossed the border en route to the familiar comfort of home?

It may sound like a scene from a “Brady Bunch” episode, but the genuine excitement of returning home with family, to family, was symbolic of those simpler times.

Who would have imagined then that those signs would ever be changed?

I am sure it’s apparent which slogan received my vote. It shouldn’t be a surprise. I am a traditionalist at heart, and I often long for the happy, carefree days that characterized my childhood years.

lll

So what slogan best describes West Virginia? I ponder this when I tweet a photo of a sunset and wonder what hashtag to use. #WildWonderful? #AlmostHeaven? #MountainState?

They are all appropriate. But which is the most descriptive, and the most iconic?

Perhaps it depends on the individual, and his or her own experiences in this great state where natural beauty shines, heritage is revered and people are proud to use the word “y’all.”

I still lean toward “wild and wonderful.” But, then again, I like to hold on to those vacation memories.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.