By Jim Hunt
I was recording an episode of “The Amazing Cities and Towns Podcast,” which I do each week, and my guest was Jeff Towery, the city manager of McMinnville. He also serves as president of the International City/County Management Association. We had a very interesting discussion and were wrapping up the call when he asked me where I was located.
I said that I lived in West Virginia, thinking that I might have to explain that West Virginia is a state and not just the western part of Virginia, and he said, “My wife is a Mountaineer!” He said that she is from a little town named Ranger, which is less than an hour from Huntington. We laughed and I thought of how far and wide people from the small state of West Virginia have ventured and how many connections pop up in the most unusual situations.
Over my travels throughout the country and abroad, I have run into dozens of people with West Virginia roots in some of the most remote parts of the world. On a trip several years ago, I was being driven from Spokane, Washington to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to do a speech and the driver of the car was making small talk with me and asked where I was from. I said, “West Virginia,” and he asked me what city. When I said Clarksburg, he said, “I know exactly where that is!”
He explained that he was raised in the Kappa Sigma Pi home, which was an orphanage that operated in Clarksburg many years ago. He said that he was adopted as a teenager by a family from Clarksburg and that he had such fond memories of his adopted family and of Clarksburg. He entered the military after high school and finally made his way to Idaho.
In Kansas City, several years ago, I attended a conference, and the mayor of Kansas City was a tall, lanky guy named Mark Funkhouser. We ended up on a panel discussion and he sat next to me and looked at my name tag. He said that he was born in Paden City and always considered West Virginia his home state. He later was named the publisher of Governing Magazine and I would continue to see him at various meetings and events around the country. We would always speak about our West Virginia roots.
I have several friends in the local government world who are from Alabama and Texas and the subject of football is usually a popular subject. As most people know, these folks tend to look down on places like West Virginia, since they believe that their college football teams are in an elite club that would never include the likes of a place like West Virginia.
I generally let them talk for a while and when the names of Nick Saban or Jimbo Fisher are mentioned, I casually mention that one of these National Championship-winning coaches was born within a 20-minute drive of my hometown and the other one is from my hometown! Most react with a level of disbelief, and some are downright argumentative.
While our dear state takes its share of knocks in the national media and we are often highlighted for being at the bottom of one list or the other, the roots of West Virginia has spread in almost every facet of life and to the farthest corners of the globe. And as that famous West Virginian, Don Knotts, better known as Barney Fife, once said, if you say anything bad about West Virginia, “You got a fight on your hands.” Have an Amazing week!