The South Charleston resident remembers when she would sit in the car as her grandparents shopped. Since her grandmother didn't own a microwave, she cooked everything, which gave the young Hensley more time to read her books.
"I remember hoping we would sit in the shade in the parking lot. My teachers would come by and I would think, 'Oh good! They saw me reading,' " Hensley recalled. "It was the go-to place."
On Oct. 17, 1983, her grandparents were going about their daily routine when they got stuck in a traffic jam. They were only about a quarter-mile from the Foodland when they realized something wasn't right.
A Columbia Gas engineer had prepared an incorrect map of gas lines in the area of the Davis Creek Foodland. During excavation for the sewer line, a backhoe operator -- who had been told that the line had been abandoned -- snagged the gas lines with his machine, causing the leak that led to the blast, according to a Gazette report later that year.
Koehn, the most seriously injured of the 18 victims, told the Charleston Daily Mail in December 1983 how he noticed a "very light" odor of gas. He described the explosion as "more like an earthquake, a rumbling type thing with building movement." The entire store filled with smoke as walls crumbled.
The co-manager at the time, Terry Phillips, said "there was a tremendous blast. ... I was knocked backward down onto the floor. I was dazed but I could see small fires all around me."
Columbia Gas paid a $200,000 fine levied by the state Public Service Commission after the blast. The company paid an additional $3,945 for interest. The PSC said the company had improperly handled the gas leak and improperly tied off a gas line that led to the explosion.
The store was rebuilt and reopened in 1986.
While many will remember the explosion, Hensley will remember how the grocery store was everyone's first job.
The young girls worked as cashiers while the boys carried groceries out to customers' cars, she said. Hensley worked at the Oakhurst store, too. She learned how to make donuts after the deli was set up.
For Hensley, the store was much more than just a place to shop.
In an open letter to the Oakhurst grocery store and its employees, Hensley wrote, "You have made such a difference in the lives of your customers. We have seen you not as our customer service providers, but as extended members of our families. I think I can speak for many of your patrons both present and previous when I say we love you and we will miss you all."
Reach Megan Workman at megan.work...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.