POINT PLEASANT —This week, the Point Pleasant Register will be looking back over the past year, highlighting memorable moments and stories from 2016.
This review begins with stories that took place in January through March this year, with more months, and stories, to follow this week.
The year in Mason County began with residents being reminded that the world is not safe, especially for those in the U.S. Armed Forces.
In January, word came that Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Q. McClintock, 30, was killed in action in Halmand Province, Afghanistan, on Jan. 5, leaving behind wife Alexandra and infant son Declan, along with many other friends and family members. McClintock’s father, Sonny, of Jacksonville, Fla., is a graduate of Point Pleasant High School and was a member of the military. Matthew’s grandparents were the late George and Helen Maxine McClintock, formerly of Point Pleasant — George passed away in 2010, with Helen passing away just last year. George and Helen were life-long residents of Point Pleasant, and George had also been in the military. Matthew had been to Mason County to visit over the years, as well.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Matthew was a Special Forces soldier who was with Afghan forces as part of a “train, advise and assist” mission in Marjah when his unit came under fire. A native of Albuquerque, N.M., and a veteran Green Beret on his third tour of duty, he was a member of the Washington National Guard assigned to the 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Buckley, Wash.
Also in January, the Mason County Development Authority felt the odds were in its favor with its choice of new director, John Musgrave. Musgrave, a resident of Point Pleasant, and former director of the West Virginia Lottery, retired from the West Virginia Lottery as its director in October 2015. He said members of the development authority approached him about the position and he decided to step into the role, reconnecting with the organization he was an integral part of in the early 1990s.
Also in January, people in Point Pleasant were talking about the change in color to the old Panchos building and the hope of a new restaurant in town. El Limon would open a few weeks later but close later in the year.
January also saw Winter Storm Jonas bring headaches to many, but for one local family, the 11.5-inches of snow provided some welcome relief during a difficult start to the New Year. During that snowy weekend, as people in Mason County were snowed in and scrolling their newsfeed on Facebook, video after video showed otherwise sensible human beings in clothes more suited to summer, diving into snowbanks in frigid temperatures to create snow angels specifically for one little boy. The “Snow Angel Challenge” was to benefit Holdyn Keefer, a boy who is fighting leukemia. The chain of videos and donations grew and grew.
January also saw Point Pleasant City Council beginning to move on its idea for a water spray park, announcing it would be better suited to Krodel Park than at the old Harmon Park Pool location. Fundraising work remains ongoing on the project.
In February, the West Virginia Legislature voted to make the state the 26th state with a so-called right-to-work law. Those who supported the move, said it would draw in business and give workers more freedom over their ties to unions, but opponents felt it was solely meant to undercut unions. The law, and the way local representatives voted on it, remained a hot topic through the primary and into the general election.
Also in February, forget about New Hampshire, Marshall University’s Mid-Ohio Valley Center had its own version of a presidential visit. MU President Jerome A. “Jerry” Gilbert, who only recently took over the position at that point, attended a reception at MOVC, meeting with not only community leaders but also students.
“I just want this community to know that this campus is part of Marshall and we value it, and that the president came to see it for himself because I’d never been up here before and I wanted to make that an early stop on my tour of the facilities,” Gilbert said.
Also in February, after a few tough budget years, the Mason County Commission began discussions about possibly placing a levy on the ballot to help possibly fund emergency services, fire departments and libraries. Ultimately, it was decided the levy would be placed on the November ballot for EMS services only. The levy was ultimately defeated by a narrow margin.
February was made a little brighter by the Bridge of Honor, connecting Pomeroy, Ohio, and Mason, W.Va., once again living up to its name after illumination was restored. At that point, it had been more than a year since the cobalt blue lights had shown on the bridge structure. Work on the bridge lights actually began in March 2014 when they began going off one by one. First thought to be acts of vandalism, it was later found that it was the heat from the bulbs causing the light covers to burst.
The bulb heat, which reached in excess of 200 degrees, caused pressure that could not escape because of the covers. This, in turn, caused the lights to break. The problem was heightened because the company that first sold the lights went out of business.
Because so many of the lights had gone out, the West Virginia Department of Transportation made the decision in early 2015 to simply cut the breaker to them, making the once bright structure totally dark. Because of the estimated cost to replace the lights, and since they were mostly for appearance and not safety, it was sketchy as to whether the lights would ever burn again.
“It took quite a bit of repair,” said Warren Skaggs, repair and design engineer with the WVDOT.
Skaggs said it was also a lengthy process getting the light covers replaced, primarily because of the cobalt blue color that signifies the military Purple Heart. Because cobalt is no longer mined, the lenses for the lights could not be found. Blenko Glass in Milton came through, Skaggs said, making a limited number.
“We bought all they could make,” Skaggs stated. “There are no more. If anyone vandalizes the lights now, they cannot be replaced.”
The engineer said along with the new lenses, each heat-tempered bulb was replaced, as well as several ballasts. Skaggs said the bulbs have a four-year life and although he knows they will eventually burn out, crews will try to keep up with them. He stated another reason the process took so long is that since the housing units were no longer available, some of the lights were actually removed from the bridge and taken to Charleston. There, they were transported to the main shop to be worked on and then returned.
February also saw the birth of The Kitchen Table, a grassroots, volunteer organization which provides free meals and other services throughout Mason County. The Kitchen Table began its journey serving free meals out of The Meeting House and then later grew to enter into a partnership with the Pleasant Valley Hospital Auxiliary. Since then, The Kitchen Table has started a Kid’s Kafe free summer meals program, given away hundreds of new shoes to needy school children and gave away over 100 meals at Christmas, among other services.
In March, addiction was front and center with a special town hall meeting held on opiate abuse in Point Pleasant. “We need you all together to help us, to help others. We’re not bad people, we just make dumb decisions, that’s all.” So said Matt Young, a recovering addict who addressed those gathered at the town hall meeting on opiate abuse led by Tim White from Prestera and sponsored by the Mason County Prevention Coalition and Loved Ones Support Group.
Conducted at Main Street Baptist Church, many from the recovery, law enforcement, faith and health care communities gathered, as did those from local government and residents who wanted to be more involved and informed about the epidemic. The meeting consisted of a brief video presentation and a question-and-answer period with a panel made up of Sheriff Greg Powers, Prosecutor Craig Tatterson, Young, then-Mason County Health Department Administrator Diana Riddle, Mason County Day Report Director Steve Presley and a representative from Prestera Center in Point Pleasant.
Also in March, Point Pleasant City Council was the latest entity to agree to draft a resolution supporting the continued operation of Tu-Endie-Wei State Park by the State of West Virginia. Diana Johnson, who is a local park advocate, member of the Col. Charles Lewis Chapter NSDAR and organizer of the annual Battle Days event which utilizes the park, appeared before city council and other entities, to stress her concerns about the park’s possible closure.
The park being on the chopping block all centered around a member of the legislature asking for information from various state agencies for possible fiscal solutions if faced with a hypothetical 6.5 percent additional cut in the 2016-17 budget. One of the hypothetical remedies, according to an article published by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, was to close or operate unstaffed, several state parks, including Tu-Endie-Wei. The park was saved from last year’s budget cuts and with the legislative session set to begin, many will be watching how the state can save money without affecting the historic park in downtown Point Pleasant.