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West Virginians young, old celebrate 150 years

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For Brian Wilson, a commander in the U.S. Navy, the chance to celebrate West Virginia's Sesquicentennial was the chance to show his children the state that he loved while growing up.

Wilson, a Charleston native, left the state when he joined the military in 1993. He and his wife, Caroline, lived in Texas, Florida, California and Japan before eventually moving to Nebraska. Their twin son and daughter were born in Japan and raised in Nebraska, but Wilson said that doesn't matter.

"They think they're Cornhuskers. I tell them, 'Kids, everyone who loves you in this world lives in West Virginia. You're Mountaineers,'" Wilson said. "I figured since they met the governor and his wife today, it's cemented now that they're Mountaineers."

West Virginians young and old gathered on the state Capitol lawn Thursday to ring in the state's last 150 years and look forward to many more.

Loeda Maloy brought a lawn chair to the Capitol to hear the bell ringing, listen to the West Virginia Army National Guard, and hear Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin speak.

It was her second major West Virginia birthday celebration.

Fifty years ago, Maloy was sitting in her home in Kanawha City when President John F. Kennedy famously said at West Virginia's Centennial, "The sun does not always shine in West Virginia, but the people always do."

"I watched it on TV because I didn't want to come out. It was really raining," Maloy said.

Maloy is old enough to have a direct link to the state's founding 150 years ago.

"The Civil War is very real to me. As a child in Tucker County I sat on the lap of a Civil War veteran and he had a beard that came this long. It was real long and I'd play with his beard and fall asleep in his arms," Maloy said.

In 1835, Maloy's family emigrated from the Alsace-Lorraine region that alternated several times between German and French ownership.

"Sometimes they'd call themselves Frenchmen and sometimes German," Maloy said.

They eventually settled in Philippi, then part of Virginia, but now in Barbour County, which became the site of the first land battle of the Civil War.

"My great-grandfather Auvil (Maloy's maiden name) was a minister," Maloy said. "The Southern Army came and got him and tied him to a tree and lit a fire under him and he just started praying. He said he had friends in both places. But the Union Army did the same thing to him later."

Jim Sisler, a high school history teacher, came as a chaperone for the West Virginia Ambassadors Camp, a group of the best history and art students in the state.

"I'm a school teacher in Hardy County in West by God Virginia, and that's why I'm here," Sisler said.

He remembers the Centennial celebration 50 years ago, but not many details.

"I was with my father," Sisler said. "I didn't have an appreciation for history at that age."

Aerianna McClanahan, 14, does have an appreciation for history at that age. She came from Mingo Central High School as part of the student ambassadors camp.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing all the different people from the different parts of the state gathering for our state's birthday," McClanahan said.

Ryan Young came from Shady Spring High School in Raleigh County. He was excited to see Tomblin speak and also for Thursday night's 3D movie and fireworks.

John Godbey of Sissonville was celebrating two birthdays on Thursday, West Virginia's 150th and his own 79th.

"We're here celebrating West Virginia today," he said, before his wife pointed out his modesty.

"It's his birthday today too," Marguerite Godbey said. "I can't remember if we were here for the celebration in 1963, but we were certainly around for it."

Lois Carper was born in Wheeling, where her whole family had lived for decades, but has lived in Kanawha City for 60 years. One of her ancestors fought and was wounded in the Civil War

"I had a great-grandfather, his name was Pelley and he was in the Northern Army," Carper said. "I didn't know that he was in the Union Army until they told me as a little girl. He carried a bullet in his head right here the rest of his life and he lived all that time."

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.

 


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