By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
City officials were pleased to welcome former governor Gaston Caperton to Shinnston mid-week last week. During his three and a half hour visit, City Manager Amy Wilson noted that there was a reciprocal exchange of information with a lot of questions asked.
Upon his arrival, Capterton said he had his driver take him on a leisurely tour of the City so that he could look it over from one end of the city limits to the other. “I am a supporter of small towns and I like what I saw,” he told news media.
He met privately with City Manager Amy Wilson and Community Development Director AJ Hammond in the City Administrative Offices for nearly an hour. Then they proceeded to the Bice-Ferguson Museum where he was greeted by several Council members and members of the news media before a catered luncheon was served, hosted by Wesbanco.
“He asked us numerous questions about our community, its goals and activities,” Mrs. Wilson reported. “We told him about our park, our museum, our rail trail, our attempts to bring more people into our community with movies and theater in the park, craft fairs, our annual arts walk, our Frontier Days festival, and that we now host several bocce tournaments and eight 5K races and have introduced Wind Down Wednesdays right in our downtown area. We also showed him the GC Murphy building, which we are hoping to renovate into a home for our city offices and a meeting place for our seniors. Having been a former governor of West Virginia and the fact that he has so many contacts throughout the state and the country, we asked for his input and suggestions. And we were pleased to receive a pat on the back for all the steps we are taking!”
Former Governor Caperton said he does not advocate tearing down and tossing aside buildings within a community unless they are completely beyond salvaging. “I support rescuing these buildings if possible because they are a valuable part of a community’s history. I have heard a lot about the people who live here. The fact that your mayor was raised here and nearly all of his family lives here … the fact that your council members have a history here … and your City Manager longed to return here after living in another state. They have a history here; it is their home … their community … and they’re going to love it and care for it. That can’t be replaced. That kind of feeling is typically an indicator that a community will succeed in its endeavors because support like that is genuine,” he said.
Caperton recently returned from a trip to Russia, somewhere he had always wanted to visit. He noted to Mrs. Wilson that he saw no smiles there and people seemed rather cold. So visiting a small community with friendly faces and people working hard to make improvements that will satisfy its residents, improve the quality of life and draw new visitors left a great impression on him.
“I will do all I can to help you,” Caperton said. “I respect the attitude I see here, and I have never seen a community fail where the right attitude exists. I will be sending Shinnston some material that may help you find funding resources and some contact information. Network with private partnerships and talk to them about how their projects worked. Keep doing what you’re doing to bring attention to your community and what is already being done here. Get people involved with your community,” he advised.
Tamarack, a facility that is a museum, art gallery and collection of studios for visiting artists that showcases products of West Virginia’s cottage industries, was a product of Caperton’s tenure in office as governor. So it is no surprise that he was thoroughly interested in learning more about the Bice-Ferguson Museum where he asked numerous questions about how it was developed.
“I find it amazing that Shinnston has such a jewel; it is not customary to have something like this – and this well done – in a small town. This is truly another wonderful surprise to find here,” he said.
Mrs. Wilson added, “Governor Caperton said the City was moving in the right direction and to keep pushing for activities, the arts and healthy living – that they go hand in hand, and make a community a desirable one. He told us to combine these things and capitalize on them and that it would be an asset to us in attaining grants.”
Caperton also said that having a population of 2,200 did not exactly paint an accurate picture. “You can’t neglect to include all the outlying areas that you offer services to. When you include places like Lumberport, Enterprise, and others, you are more likely servicing closer to 10,000 people.”
Mrs. Wilson said that Caperton was impressed with what he saw and offered some good suggestions. “He gave us hope that we are moving in the right direction and taking necessary steps to attain success that will benefit our businesses and our residents,” Wilson added.
The City received word from former Gov. Caperton the following day, saying he had rehashed his visit to Shinnston during the entire drive home, and the City can expect to soon receive some packets of information that may help them as they move forward.
Caperton was the 31st Governor of West Virginia, serving two terms from 1989-1997. He supported the passages of ethics, road-building and education, and reduced the state’s debts, creating a $100 million surplus. During his tenure there was also a significant drop in unemployment and approximately 86,000 new jobs were created. Because of this, Financial World magazine called West Virginia the most improved state in the nation. In addition, because of advances in the state’s education technology during his terms in office, Caperton received the Computerworld Smithsonian Award.
“This man has numerous contacts and has assumed so many leadership roles – both within our state and nationally; we feel he is a good contact for the City to have and we look forward to his next visit, which he faithfully promised to make,” Wilson concluded.