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Family story inspires cancer center campaign

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the late 1940s, John Ziebold lost his mother to cancer. Nothing could save her. She spent her last three years crusading for a modern hospital in Charleston. His mother held the first planning meetings in her home to build Charleston Memorial Hospital.

Later, cancer crushed him again. His wife succumbed to a rare form of the dreaded disease five years ago.

He spent much of his working life as a banker. He knows everybody in town, knows their descendents, the shakers and movers on down.

Like his mother, he believes in the importance of volunteerism. He's known as a determined go-to guy who gets things done.

And so, when talk started about building a freestanding cancer center for CAMC, guess who they called?

As volunteer chairman of the Power of Many fundraising campaign, he engineered $15 million in contributions for the cancer center under construction now in Kanawha City.

His mother and his wife would be proud, and probably as awed as he is every time he drives by.

 

"I was born in Charleston in 1938 at the strapping weight of 2 1/2 pounds. I was two months premature and spent my first eight weeks in Kanawha Valley Hospital on Virginia Street. My father said I was determined. Once I found out what food was all about, I never quit.

"My dad was a geologist. He discovered a major gas field in the mid-'30s and started his own company. My father was in World War I. He was 70 when I graduated from college. He had me at age 46. He was a brave man.

"My mother got sick in 1944 with breast cancer. They went to Mayo. There was nothing they could do for breast cancer then. They told my father she would die.

"Once she figured that out, she made sure he put me to bed at night so I wouldn't miss her after she was gone. It went to bone cancer. She rolled over one night in bed and broke her arm. They put her in a full body cast so she wouldn't break anything. I can remember her in a hospital bed on Thomas Circle in a full body cast. That's the last memory I have of her.

"She died in January of 1947. I was 8.

"She was a concert pianist and master organist. In the newspapers in the '30s, you would see all the music stuff she started in this valley. She was Helen Townsend. Her father was T.C. Townsend, John L. Lewis' lawyer, a real curmudgeon.

"That piano over there was her 21st birthday present. I spent hours by that piano listening to her play. I play the piano. She wanted my oldest brother, Bill, to play the violin. It came to a crossroads one day. He had a dentist appointment and a violin lesson at the same time. He chose the dentist. She told him he was through with the violin.

"When she came home from Mayo, she realized what a real hospital was all about, and we didn't have anything close to it. She said we needed to do something. The first seven meetings to organize Charleston Memorial Hospital were in our living room.

"She never saw the hospital. That became my father's dream, to have the hospital built. The hospital was completed in '52. They were just starting the campaign when she died.

"She was instrumental in starting Community Music as well as the hospital. In the 30s, she started the May Festival, a copy of May Festival in Cincinnati. Think about this. We were in the middle of the Depression and she puts 200 musicians together for a three-day weekend in Charleston, W.Va. She was just wild.

"My father was the same way. He was working for United Fuel when he discovered the gas field. He told them it was there. They turned him down three times, so he went out and found it himself.

"I went to Fernbank and Thomas Jefferson, and in the ninth grade, I went to Woodberry Forest in Virginia. From Woodberry, I went to Yale. I came back and worked in my father's company.

"He started me working when I was 14 or 15 with the field gang, mowing rights of way and painting wells. He didn't pander to me. One summer I was a tool dresser. My father made sure I knew what work ethic was all about.

"I graduated from Yale in '62 and stayed in the company until 1968. I needed to find a new career. Kanawha Valley Bank asked me to come there. I started in the real estate department of the trust department. Most of my career was private banking. I put together the private banking area of Kanawha Valley Bank that became One Valley that became BB&T.

"Bob Barroner was the president and he was wonderful. He gave me free rein and let me know what I needed to do to make it work. It was like being an entrepreneur, groundbreaking stuff for banking. Nobody was thinking that way, the way I was doing things. We called it executive banking.

"Back then, they weren't listening to the customer. I said we could run it with the customer in mind. They always said I never made the same loan twice. They were used to seeing car loan paperwork come through with 48 months for this one and 60 months for that one.

"I was listening to the customer. We designed what was needed for the loan, and the customer got what would work for them. Sometimes it didn't work well for the bank, but it paid off down the road.

"Everything is a big deal in a bank. Whether it's a $100 loan or a $100,000 loan, it's important to the person on the other side of the desk.

"We became BB&T in 2000. That was tough. We had a lot of data processing problems, but we got through it. I retired in 2002.

"I couldn't be a banker today, the regulations. They hamstring everything. You can't move. It was better to be able to listen to your customer. They won't let you do that anymore. You do it the way Washington wants it done. It's sad. And it costs more.

"I married Tucky in 1962. She got sick in 2001. She had unknown primary cancer, a fairly rare form. There is no primary site. It's just there. The only was to treat it is with chemotherapy. She was on chemo the whole time. She died five years ago, in November.

"She was a brave warrior. She met it square on and handled it extremely well.

"Gail Pitchford came to get me for the cancer center. She's head of the CAMC Foundation. We worked at the bank together for 13 years, and we've had a wonderful time working together again.

"Tucky had just died. In late spring, I was still trying to come out of losing my mate of many moons, and they asked if I would consider being the campaign chairman for the cancer center. It turned out to be wonderful therapy for me. I had both a mother and wife who had died of cancer, and I had always done charity work.

"I had a lot of contacts. My family was well known. Tucky was from the Beurys in Fayette County, also extremely well known. You don't want to talk about anybody in Charleston because we're all related.

"I know who's related to whom. Those things just stick in my head. I can remember phone numbers, everything. It started in the gas company when I would go out and lease ground. You get into family trees. People at the bank would ask who so-and-so was, and I would tell them.

"Tucky's mother, Katharine Beury McFall, was the same way. I could ask her about a family in town, and she would tell me all about them.

"You always have trouble getting money from people, but there is hardly anyone who has not been touched by cancer. So they know the need. This community was absolutely fantastic in the way they responded. We raised $15 million.

"The center is due to be completed in March of 2015. I get goose bumps when I drive down MacCorkle Avenue. It is mind-boggling to me that it is happening, something that I was a part of.

"We went to M.D. Anderson [in Houston] with Tucky. It's considered by U.S. News and World Report as the top cancer center in the country. But every treatment she had was in Charleston. That's what the cancer center is all about. It's an outpatient center.

"The crowding in the unit now is terrible. In 2007, they had about 17,000 patient visits, and by 2010, they had 30,000 patient visits. All in the same space. They have no conference room where you can take a family and explain what you are going to do for a patient with cancer.

"We got to Rehoboth Beach, Del., in the summer. They have a beautiful cancer center there. It's got everything this one will have, a healing garden, wonderful infusion bays, night and day compared to what we have now where they are stacked on top of each other.

"In 1973, I put this Fairfax subdivision together with Ken Dunn and Tom Blair. It was a sideline while I was in banking.

"I had triple bypass surgery in 1997, a preventive thing. And I've felt great ever since.

"If I had my life to do over, I'd run it the same way. There are glitches I don't like. Losing my mother at age 8, that's tough. Losing a wife is tough. But I've got three wonderful children, and I have a very supportive family."I don't have anything on the burner. I'm just enjoying myself. I have a new girlfriend. Good things are happening, so I'm happy as a bug in a rug." Reach Sandy Wells at sandyw@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.


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